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?
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.