Sunday, June 23, 2013

Petting Puppies



Once upon a time, in a land far away…

I approached the Canadian border on a deserted two lane highway. I’d traveled for days up the coast from California, turned inland at the end of Washington, ferried across the water, and then forgoing the interstate highway, found a small road that headed north. I hadn’t considered this to be anything suspicious. It simply seemed more fun to be riding the motorcycle on a winding back road than on a boring crowded interstate.

The border crossing was not crowded. In fact, I had the place to myself. The officer in the kiosk was efficient if not exactly effervescent. I figured he was simply doing his job. But I was a bit surprised when he invited me into the little building over there for a few questions. The gent in there was efficient but not polite.

Where was I from? Where was I going? No surprises here. Straight answers from me. Just hoping to see some Canada, I said. What do you do for a living? Oh, I’m a veterinarian. Ah….so you can get drugs, right?

Excuse me?

Dawned upon me right about then, the why for why I was sitting in a chair across a table from a law enforcement agent in the always welcoming nation of Canada. This guy thought I was smuggling drugs. Apparently, that’s what veterinarians do.

And all this time I’d thought that veterinarians just petted puppies and kittens, and cashed the checks so we could get rich. I had no idea I was supposed to be smuggling drugs, too. All these years I’ve wasted by not scoring drugs for sale. Probably could have retired by now.

Petting puppies is a major plus in the why-do-I-do-this-job column. Puppies are nice. They mostly arrive on my exam table simply real glad to see me. Too young to know any better, a puppy trusts everyone, loves everyone. They march right up, eyes locked on you and mouth spread in perpetual grin, they match their tails with their enthusiasm. Puppy breath. Puppy kisses. 

All of the negatives in this deal, all the disappointments, all the tragedy, all the frustration and pain this job nets us…..melts away with just one puppy lovin’ on you. A good day in this business is puppies, all day long. The more puppies, the better.

Today….The four o’clock….three puppies. Saw this show up on the appointment schedule, and my heart sank. I wanted to cry.

We get to see the puppies often for the simple reality that the best way to keep the devil away, that virus we call Parvo, is to vaccinate the puppies early and often. I won’t bore you with the details, but when we have the opportunity to vaccinate every three weeks or so, most of our puppies won’t catch that disease, and they will live to be the companions we so value in our dogs. And they won’t die lying weak and helpless in the puddle of vomit and bloody diarrhea that that disease inflicts upon them. 

Something went wrong with this litter. The dam was vaccinated, according to the owner, so her immunity should have protected the puppies for weeks more than it did. The puppies had started their vaccine series so they should have been in a pretty safe state. We don’t much see eight week old puppies catch Parvo anymore. Eight week old puppies have never had much of a chance when Parvo showed up.  That’s what we saw back in the day, when we watched so many die in agony.

These days, usually they wait until they are older and they have a semblance of a chance of surviving even if they do catch it. If Mom’s immunity transferred to the pups works like it should, only the older pups will get sick, and our opportunity with proper care, of saving the pups who do catch this disease, hangs in the pretty good chance percentages. 

Of course, when we cannot apply what we can, that damn disease will still kill off most of those precious babies, just like it has for the last thirty years.

Seven pups were born into this litter. The first puppy had been sold, and within a day it was diagnosed with Parvo at another hospital. Not quite eight weeks old. A day later, the first of the rest showed up at our hospital. It tested positive, but wasn’t too badly off, so a few simple things which might help if the gods approved, were tried, and we sent it home. Two days later, we got to kill the first two.

Ya see, the plan was to sell the pups for many hundreds of tax free dollars. No money was set aside for the puppies’ care if anything went wrong. These folks had no money to spare at all. Proper care of a Parvo sick puppy costs many hundreds of dollars at a good hospital, and even at our little place it ain’t cheap. And the puppies’ owners weren’t going there. So rather than watch the puppies die puking and shitting blood, and crying and twitching in agony, somebody gets to “put them out of their misery”. 

It’s the humane thing to do.

And guess who gets to do it.

The puppy at the other hospital had already died. The one I’d seen two days earlier died at their home. These two had the zombie look that Parvo gives us, but they still tried to wag their tails and smile at us as we killed them. My poor tech was crying, and pleading, “I’m sorry baby, I’m sorry, I’m sorry….”

I kept it together, because somebody had to hit a tiny vein in a tiny leg so these pups could die in peace, and tears get in the way of that.

So today we got the last three. They weren’t eating and they could not play. They were vomiting and barely moved. The drool seeped from their mouths and horrid stuff leaked from the other end. The first two died quietly, just like it’s supposed to be when I do my job right. My tech was more stoic this time, as the job here had killed a little bit more of her.

The last puppy sensed something. Perhaps he wasn’t ready to die at only eight weeks of age. Nobody should be ready to die at eight weeks of age. This puppy railed and cried, and struggled, and then I killed him too. My tech left to go scream in the bathroom.

The owner turned to face me, after all this.

And he asked me for a discount on the bill, for this had involved so many pups, and the cost was more than he had hoped.

36 comments:

  1. My heart aches for you and for those poor babies.

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  2. Criminy. I would have punched him in the face.

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  3. And I would put money on it that the owner, or a close friend that comes to visit or is visited often, had at least one pup that had parvo at some point in the not too distant past, say anywhere from 6 months to 2-3 years. I've unfortunately seen the cycle too many times. Damn virus will lay like a curse over certain homes/areas, waiting for the next unsuspecting waggily pup, to steal that sweet puppy breath, all those darling puppy kisses, and break our hearts over and over again.

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  4. I doubt the mother dog was vaccinated at all.

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  5. I would have made him pay before the euthanasia.

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  6. OMFG - this rings SO true. I had one like that and the owner then never paid the bill for the parvo, never paid for the other dog that I had repaired a femoral fracture for and reported me to the vet board for "giving his pups parvo". Luckily the Board allowed common sense to prevail. When the moron came in to my (different) clinic 9 years later with another unvaccinated dog, I told him to take his trade elsewhere. Unfortunately i had to be polite about it!

    Australian admirer of the blog xx

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  7. Really? Why not at least try to save them? You vets think too much of yourselves, and your moments of pain. Plenty of puppies survive parvo. The fact that you killed a puppy that was struggling to live calls your right to have a license into question.

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    Replies
    1. Hi! You seem to be missing simple reading comprehension. Parvo kills most puppies even WITH treatment, and without getting this waste of skin back yard breeder to sign them over, the vet didn't have even the legal backing to treat the dogs against their owner's will. I know this is AGES old but by god I can't let that ridiculous comment stand.

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  8. I had a long comment written up, but I thought better of it. All I will say is...

    Seriously, Larkin?! Who exactly is supposed to foot the bill for the thousands of dollars it would take to treat the puppies?! Is a vet's job to pay for every dumbass who doesn't want to pay for their pet's care? Are you volunteering to pay for treatment for the next batch?

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  9. Yes Larkin, you endow a free parvo clinic for all the C.H.U.D. morkiepoo and pit breeders to get free treatment at, match my salary and you will see parvo treated like nobodies business . I have done it a lot and we can go through plenty of plasma and human albumin which will allow us to save 95%+ of these critters. Really I am quite good at this! We get one or more parvo calls a night 75% of which belong to owners to broke or indifferent to pay the exam fee let alone the treatment. We frequently use $300-$500 dollars of materials alone between fluids, drugs, IV lines ect. And we pay staff because no one (myself included) wants to play with a river of bloody diarrhea for free!!!! I figure that in most temperate areas ( and beyond, my friends in AK see parvo) 5-20% of puppies born contract parvo so figure out where you want our new parvo charity to be and then figure your caseload will be 1-3% of the estimated canine population within 15 miles of there and multiply that times $1000 and you will have your budget. Or just let the VBB vent about how much it sucks when irresponsible douches push problems off on us instead of having any semblence of a plan in life.

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  10. Larkin, would a heavy smoker expect a doctor to foot their chemo bill? No? Maybe cirrhosis patients should start demanding the livers of their doctors for transplant? Vets are not a charity. Every one of us would love to provide gold standard treatment and cure every single animal that walks through our doors but if we did that for free we'd stay in business for all of half an hour. And then no one's animals get treated.

    Honestly, I'm only in my final year of vet school and I really hate how disillusioned I already am. One of my placements saw a parvo puppy come in while I was there. It was the family's third unvaccinated puppy with parvo. Their THIRD in the span of months. Another puppy came in, different family, unvaccinated with a little bloody diarrhoea and vomiting. Couldn't afford to treat but didn't want to put the puppy down. We told them to nurse him at home as best they could and to NOT take the puppy outside or allow it to mix with other dogs. They come back in that evening, puppy's got a broken leg because another dog roughhoused it outside. Ended up being put down. I really really worry about how I'm going to cope as a new grad because I wanted to shake that owner hard enough to snap their neck.

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  11. Larkin
    Missed the part where you listed your credentials, your years of experience and training, and your long list of disappointments stacked one upon the other that you accrued because you dedicated your entire adult life to caring for the little animals and the people who love them. How many tiny bodies soaked in slime and bloody diarrhea have you gently placed in body bags and then into the cooler because of parvo? How many times have you swallowed your good sense and tried to help the pathetic losers that come through your front door hoping to blend in with all those nice decent folks, the liars and thieves and psychopaths that we deal with every day, the ones who steal our money, our precious time, and our quality of life? How many times have you gotten up from the dinner table and left your family behind to drive down to the clinic to check a sick puppy, hoping for signs of improvement, only to have to disconnect the IV and put them in a bag instead? In the last thirty four years I've put nearly a thousand puppies into that bag. And I've had my guts ripped out by hundreds of lying people that I trusted, losers of various stripes that I sacrificed to try to help, because that's what happens when you dedicate your live to helping people.
    After all this I've also figured out that sometimes it simply is more kind to gently put a puppy to sleep rather than watch it suffer for days. only to die because we tried to cut too many corners in its care.
    We don't do this because of greed or indifference. We do it because we care.
    So Larkin, tell me about your cred. Do you really think you know what you are talking about? Do you have a shred of competence and experience to allow you to comment upon the legitimacy of my license? Cause if you don't, please don't insult me further. For your opinion has no value.

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  12. Larkin, please put me on your list to donate money to all of us vets for treating parvo pups whose owners have no money to treat them. I see multiple cases each week, so a few thousand weekly should cover it. Thanks !

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  13. Larkin sounds exactly like the thousands of douchetards I've met across an exam table that think we owe them anything more than our professional opinion. I've learned to recognize a douchetard. And Larkin, you fit the description. Put up or STFU.

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  14. Larkin, there is something wrong with your reading comprehension. The veterinarian who wrote that piece attempted to treat six puppies on a shoestring budget - i.e., tried to save them. Despite his/her best efforts, one died and the other five were euthanized because they were dying. The veterinarian certainly feels the pain, but wasn't responsible for the deaths of those puppies. The owner, and people like you who assume veterinarians will bail out the stupid, cheap and irresponsible because we LOVE animals, are the ones who are to blame for their deaths. I'll join the chorus: donate to your local veterinary practice's needy animal fund so we can treat the parvo puppies, the pyometras, the backyard breeder emergency c-sections, the West Nile horses, the 3-day-old septic tendon sheaths, the blocked goats, the rock hard large colon impactions... get the picture?

    I don't know what you do for a living, but you must be doing well if you assume veterinarians can afford to give away thousands of dollars in materials, medications, laboratory tests, staff services, and, oh yes, professional services without financial repercussions. News flash: we can't. Not won't. Can't. We'd go out of business, and then be unable to help anyone.

    Put up the $, or STFU.

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  15. Kez, don't be to forlorn with this particular aspect of vetmed. Find a job (fingers crossed for u buddy cause this profession need realists like u) at a decent clinic that is neither bargain basement nor $700 for a vaccine visit and most of your clients will appreciate your services. The occasional Douchetard will ruin your day but try to keep in mind that the badness you see exist whether or not you are there. Veterinarians see an amazing amount of death, loss and grief in our lives but also spread a lot of hope and relief of suffering. Having been to burn out and back I can tell you that perspective is critical, don't get too high or to low, remember that although you should strive to do the best possible job under the given circumstances of each case you are not going to win every battle. Remember that grieving people lash out and don't take it personally. Venting occasionally is very nescasary but carrying anger with over time only hurts you. Don't expect every client to have the same value system you do, as long as realative comfort is maintained its there right to euthanize the first day they receive an unfavorable diagnosis or keep pushing past the point where you would like to stop. Guess that's all I have to say about that, hope you find an ace you can keep in there.

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  16. Cheers Lance, I appreciate your saying that. I know being so angry so early isn't a good thing and I do try to deal with it. One of the steps I've taken to make sure I cope is making the decision to work central to a big city when I graduate. A smallies or exotic pet job in that sort of area will probably be hard to come by as a new grad but I know I'm going to spiral right down the drain if I've got the isolation of a rural job on top of everything else. Then I'm no good to anyone or their pets.

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