Until One Has Loved an Animal: How Pets Affected One Vet's Soul

Until One Has Loved an Animal: How Pets Affected One Vet's Soul

by Mildred A. Drost DVM


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781475960822
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/10/2013
Pages: 148
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.32(d)

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Until One Has Loved an Animal

How Pets Affected One Vet's Soul
By Mildred A. Drost

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Mildred A. Drost, DVM
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4759-6082-2

Chapter One

On-Call Quill Dogs

* * *

"There!" I sighed as I pulled what seemed like the one millionth porcupine quill from the huge male Rottweiler's mouth. Blood dripped from the most recent extraction sites on his massive jaw, leaving glistening scarlet droplets on the pale, tiled floor. His muzzle extended over the end of my exam table, and all four legs protruded past the edges, streaked and smeared with drying blood. The tabletop and its three sides were an abstract painting, red on white. Footprints were evident here and there on the floor, and a decent crime scene investigator would have had no problem identifying the perpetrator. Fingerprints—and even entire handprints—could be easily lifted from the scene. The perfect prints of my shoes (Naturalizers, size 8 1/2) were in full view, and I noted that I had stepped in several of the freshest blood smears.

Although I had no experience tracking porcupines, I felt that I could say with some certainty that most of those animals were found in wet or swampy areas. My opinion was based on the repeated appearance of my "quill dog" patients: wet to the chest, feet and legs covered with black, often foul-smelling mud. The mud is memorable due to its ability to smear the light floors of my clinic and merge with the blood to create an almost purple hue. The mixture seemed to require twice the normal effort to remove it from the floors, and I sighed as I recognized the signs of a protracted cleanup after the eventual discharge of the dogs.

Clumps of two-by-two cotton gauze littered the room, and multiple quills protruded from each clump. Quills are easily released from the extracting forceps by inserting the end of each quill into the gauze (after they are removed from the dog). The barbs on the business end of the quills catch on the strands in the gauze, and they remain there when the forceps are opened. Today, many, many clumps of gauze had been pierced by quills. Glancing around, I wondered fretfully which product it was that removed blood from clothing with the best results. My bloodied lab coat told a grisly but inaccurate story, and I deeply regretted wearing my favourite blue jeans to this two-quill-dogs call.

"From now on, let's leave the body piercing to the professionals," I advised the sleeping form of the mammoth dog as I slid him from the exam table and down my body to rest on the floor with just a slight thump. "Body piercing is just not what it's cracked up to be!"

Quill dogs are frequently encountered when veterinarians are on call for emergencies. The predators are disabled by their prey. The large quills protecting the slow porcupine pierce the lips, tongue, throat, hard palate, and face of the attacking dog—and often the feet, legs, and chest as the dog makes a poorly thought-out attack on what should have been an easy kill. The result is a very painful beard of sharp spines that have barbs at their ends to add an exquisite agony when extracted. The porcupine's protection is simple and elegant. It simply turns its back to its attacker and elevates its many spines (it wears a jacket of 30,000 tiny, easily detached spears, all at the ready). With its head down, it waits for the chance to strike its aggressor with its strong, spiny tail. Attempts to bite are repelled by the spines projecting from its body. Like a large grey-brown pincushion—needles pointing in reverse—it attempts to wait out its attackers. Reviled by dog owners, porcupine attacks are almost unheard of. Their game plan is avoidance. So who do we blame? Many dogs are easily repelled by the first, sharp touch, but others become spurred by the excitement of the attack and the pain—they kill the porcupine despite the terrible cost to themselves. This is the category to which I felt today's quill dogs belonged.

Carefully, I made one final check of my patient. I felt the thick black and tan skin folds of his face and jowls with my fingertips for any hint of the thin, firm, barbed spines of the dog's ill-fated prey. Next, I rechecked his massive shoulders, neck, and chest before palpating the joints of his huge front legs. His body filled much of the treatment room floor where I had placed him to recover from the anaesthetic. Trepidation lent wings to my fingers as I noted his breathing rate increase and his huge frame start to move—he was rapidly regaining consciousness. He quickly discarded the endotracheal tube that had kept his windpipe open so he could receive anaesthetic and oxygen during the procedure. He and his erstwhile companion—a large male Rottweiler mix with an aggressive and fearful attitude—had made short work of the unlucky porcupine and long work for me. Their faces initially had huge, painful beards of quills with many more in their necks, legs, and feet, but I persevered until I had removed all that I could find.

My holiday weekend had been interrupted by the call from their owner who demanded that I attend to his animals immediately. I had survived the initial meeting with the man and sifted through his various stories: "They are not my dogs"; "They both have good temperaments"; "I don't have any money, but I can't leave my poor pups to suffer"; "The biggest one is aggressive, but the smaller one will bite"; "I get paid next week"; "I can't afford that much, so I guess I'll take them home and shoot them"; and "A guy owes me some money, and I will get that before I come to pick up my dogs."

It always amazes me how perfect strangers expect to be given credit for work done on their animals (granted, this guy was far less than perfect). Often, when I ask whether customers have credit cards or whether someone else could lend them the payment, the answer is no. It always makes me think, If no one who knows you will lend you money ...

I dreaded the possibility that he might return without the funds to cover my fees for the entire holiday afternoon. He had offered to pay me next week too, a plan that I found suspect in view of his varying stories. Plus, I'd never met the man or his dogs before, so it would be hard to track him down if he didn't bring the money. The bottom line was that the dogs badly needed my help, and fees or not, after having seen them, I knew I couldn't ignore their plight.

The Rotty lifted his head and surveyed the floor of my treatment room with a fascinated but unfocused stare. The drugs that I had administered to relax and sedate him had done their job well. As I watched, he made several unsuccessful attempts to lever himself to his feet but he had not yet regained control of both ends of his impressive anatomy. Carefully, I plotted my escape routes in case this guy lived up to his owner's smug description of his attitude (as the other dog had).

I sensed that the other dog, the Rottweiler mix, was a fearful dog that was poorly socialized to people and different surroundings. His uncertainty about the ways of people and their motives made him afraid. Lack of experience with people (or perhaps even some experiences with bad people) frightened him, and he reacted aggressively to hide that fear—as many people do. Although this type of fear-based aggression can be overcome by committed owners and sensitive retraining, I doubted that this fellow would find help in his situation. Still, many of these dogs are comfortable in familiar surroundings and with familiar people. Knowing that I was very unlikely to form any kind of friendship with this dog in the short time we were together, I opted to do my best to reduce the stress that he was experiencing and avoid frightening him. I avoided direct eye contact, handled him minimally, and left some treats in his kennel while I attended to his friend. It was all that I could offer in these circumstances.

"Hey, Mister," I crooned to the awakening Rottweiler. "And who's a good doggy?" I was careful to keep my voice soft and low to avoid startling him. As I watched, his glazed eyes suddenly focused on my face, and he struggled again on wobbly legs to gain his footing. His stubby tail wagged that half of him and hindered his efforts to stand. A glance at his eyes told me that his attitude—at least for the moment—was far from aggressive, and I moved forward to steady him as he attempted again to stand. A huge pink tongue aimed for my face and only swift reflexes honed from years of handling dogs allowed me to escape the slimy kiss destined for my mouth.

"You're just a little kisser," I said and smiled. I relaxed to enjoy my moments with this lovable big dog whose role, I suspected, was to protect his owner's drug enterprise in the backwoods of New Brunswick.

I'd been a dog fan for years—since childhood, in fact—and I found that I liked (or at least sympathized with) every dog I'd ever met. After spending twelve years raising and training Alaskan malamutes in conformation and obedience—and sledding recreationally—I had decided to return to university and become a veterinarian. My goal was to be able to work daily with the animals that fascinated me. And I hoped to make my little area of the world a better place in which to be a pet. There was much work to be done, but I had many allies in the area.

I wanted a nice caring home for this Rottweiler, one where he would be a loving companion to a kind, loving owner. I wanted that for all the animals that I saw, and I was inordinately pleased when I saw patients in my clinic from that kind of home. Sitting on the floor with my newest favourite dog, I reflected on the situation from which these two animals had come. Both were in good body condition and well fed. Plus, the owner was concerned enough to invest in their well-being by bringing them to me for help. I've seen what happens to unfortunate animals whose owners chose to "teach them a lesson" by leaving the quills in place for several days. I was grateful that these dogs had gotten help. Left in place, the barbed end of the quill can be pulled by its impingement on the muscle fibres as they move, and it can be gradually drawn entirely under the skin. Retained quills have been known to pierce eyes, prevent swallowing, and cause serious organ damage and major infections. In brief, the longer they are left in place, the more medical management is required—thus inflating the costs of veterinary care.

Cuddles and I now waited, his companion safely locked in a kennel for my protection and for his comfort (he truly did not appreciate my manner, bedside or otherwise). Would the owner be back? And if so, would he have the money? The best I could do for my new friend was to praise his beauty and intelligence, his protective instincts, and his value as a deterrent to home invasion. I thought that would elevate his value (and perhaps his care) to a higher level. I'd put in a good word for his companion as well, even though we had not become as close. Straining, I pushed Mr. Wonderful off my lap, ducked to avoid another wet and intimate kiss, and went to answer the clinic doorbell.

The owner had returned, and he was peeling cash from the large roll that he pulled from the pocket of his faded jeans. He glanced around the room, seemingly ignoring my instructions regarding post-anaesthetic management of the dogs and the need to monitor for hidden quills. He did focus on my praise for the beauty and value of his dogs, and he smiled slightly as I voiced my fear of approaching his house unannounced.

"Yep," he replied, "these here dogs'd die for me if I need 'em to."

"Well," I responded, "here's hoping that they don't have to. You'd never find as nice a pair again."

"No, I bet I wouldn't," he answered, seeming to view his dogs with new appreciation.

"Come on, boys," he called, and I stood back from the kennel as I released the Rotty mix to run to his owner. Surreptitiously, Mr. Snuggles and I shared a big sloppy wet kiss before he too ran from the clinic to join his family. I smiled as I watched their owner put his dogs in the cab of his truck, remembering how they had arrived: loose and dangerously unrestrained on the back of his half-ton.

After entertaining the very brief thought that I could leave the mess until tomorrow morning, I resignedly began cleaning the room. Dried blood and mud can be difficult to remove, I was again reminded, especially with tired, aching hands. Nonetheless, I persevered until it was clean enough to be acceptable for the morning clients. Fortunately, there was still no crime scene technician around to use his Luminol spray on my treatment room. My guess is that the entire room would probably fluoresce with the residue of the blood stains. Staff would do a better job tomorrow. Cleaning notwithstanding, I'd done my best for the dogs. I could only hope that their owner would too. Had I elevated their value in his eyes? I hoped so.

Chapter Two

Those Malamutes

* * *

I spent much of my free time as a child (and as an adult) with animals. After receiving my DVM degree at the age of forty, I was still somewhat in awe of my newfound responsibilities and the vast area of expertise I was assumed to have mastered. My previous efforts with my own dogs, the Alaskan malamutes, stood me in good stead in my new profession. I had learned a lot about dogs and their handling from the often-difficult northern breed.

Accustomed as I was to the civilized and obedient Border collie types on the farm, the attitude and behaviour of the independent mal was an eye-opener for me. Alaskan malamutes are the largest of the northern sled dogs, named after the Inuit Mahlemuit tribe with which they evolved. They are independent, eager to work, assertive, and stubborn. Most are friendly to all—not guard dogs. Their prey drive, willingness to fight for position in the pack, competitiveness, well-recognized sense of humour, playfulness, and sharp intelligence all evolved in harsh Arctic conditions where survival was an almost-daily concern.

With no daily survival concerns at our house, our mals turned to mischievousness, stubbornness, and any behaviour contrary to my wishes or demands. Try as I might, I could not coax from them the obedient, eager-to-please attitude of the collies. At my command to sit, their expressions would seem to say, "What for?" or "What's in it for me?" With time and an excellent obedience instructor (and tons of treats), however, I was able to convince these independent and mischievous dogs to follow some of my commands. I succeeded in qualifying several dogs for titles in obedience trials. Note that there is a reason why they are called trials, especially if you are training Alaskan malamutes.

They were great dogs for young energetic people because they were constantly getting into trouble, and they required frequent and strenuous exercise. It was from my efforts with them that I began my motto "A good dog is a tired dog." I still believe strongly that this is the root of many behaviour problems that my clients describe to me. Dogs were meant to move—to run, to herd, to patrol, to retrieve, to hunt, to chase, to pull, and so on. That's why, when I was younger, I decided to jog daily with a very active and intelligent (and troublesome) young male malamute named Max. It couldn't hurt me either—jogging is great exercise!

Each day, we would leave our home and jog along the road—uphill for a kilometre, until we reached a level area. We then continued our run along a farm road, away from the cattle, cats, and chickens that lived at the nearby farm. Max had made short work of the occasional hapless, free-roaming chicken that wandered into our yard in the past, and at all costs, I wanted to avoid any further displays of his hunting prowess.

It was fall, and the grain was being harvested. I had not yet mastered the effortless run to the farm road that I felt would become easier by the day. The uphill section still left me (but not Max) winded, no matter how slowly or strategically I covered that portion of my run.


Excerpted from Until One Has Loved an Animal by Mildred A. Drost Copyright © 2013 by Mildred A. Drost, DVM. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1—On-Call Quill Dogs....................5
Chapter 2—Those Malamutes....................13
Chapter 3—The Cost of Calls....................27
Chapter 4—Freeman and Me....................35
Chapter 5—Don't Fence Me In....................47
Chapter 6—Humour Helps....................55
Chapter 7—Euthanasia: The "Good" Death....................63
Chapter 8—The Games People Play....................71
Chapter 9—DunRoamin'....................74
Chapter 10—Buddy....................81
Chapter 11—The Pups, More or Less....................86
Chapter 12—Those Darn Cats....................92
Chapter 13—The Diva....................97
Chapter 14—When Harry Met Mil....................103
Chapter 15—Sunday Mornings, Sayin' "Down"....................108
Chapter 16—Larry the Cat....................113
Chapter 17—It Can Be Done; It's Easy....................117
Chapter 18—Bedtime....................124
Chapter 19—Conversations....................129

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