Sunday, January 15, 2012


There are many challenges that a veterinarian faces. It is a job that most of us come to because we feel compelled to do it. It is our calling. For some of us it is because we have a strong sense of caring for something that has no voice to ask for help. In my opinion, this "mothering instinct" is one of the biggest reasons women are beginning to dominate this career choice. For others it is a way to help people, practice medicine, and be "out on the farm" with a truck, a dog, and a schedule that changes with every call, every case and everyday. Not many of us veterinarians could ever go back to or choose to embrace the 9 to 5 cubicle life.

Some of us come from families of veterinarians. Others grew up on a farm, where the arrival of the vet was the equivalent of Christmas morning. But most came into veterinary medicine simply because we love animals and want to spend our whole lives surrounded by them. I fall into this later category. I was lucky enough to have spent elementary, middle, and high school in rural N.H. My parents moved to Alton N.H. from Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y. just to be able to own some land, a horse, a dog, and a cat. (Although to be honest there was also a random sheep my mom spontaneously bought on a trip to the state fair). Ours was a small farm, but it was enough for three little kids who never needed, or had, any neighboring kids to play with.

When I started middle school I got a babysitting job watching the town veterinarians 6 month old little boy. They had just moved to our little town and the new vet needed his wife in the afternoons to help out answering the phone. Theirs was a three person veterinary clinic. The vet, (Dr. Barsanti), his wife, (aka the receptionist), and one vet tech. And then there was me, half babysitter, and half veterinarian-wanna-be at age 13. They quickly became my after school family. I loved their little boy, loved being in their home, and I especially loved to watch Dr. Barsanti practice.

I would rush out of the double glass school doors at 3 pm sharp! Run the one block north towards Main Street, where his practice, the white clapboard sided 2 story cape, was at the intersection of School and Main Streets. They all lived in the tiny 2 bedroom second story of the house because he had converted the main floor into his 1 and 1/2 exam room, reception area, and laboratory space. It was a very small house, that bulged with pulling double, triple, quadruple duty of; house, hospital, surgery, and boarding facility. Only two people could fit in the largest of the examination rooms, and that was only if that other person did not have a large dog. The surgery suite had an enormous floor to ceiling 6 foot wide picture window that was adjacent to the walkway that led into the clinics front door.

The most consistent source of chatter in that little town was who was at the barber shop, the post office or Dr. Barsanti's surgery table. His surgery window could be seen from Main St, School St, and the grocery store. For me, (and I know I wasn't alone), it was impossible NOT to rubber neck whenever you were at any of those three places if his surgery lights were on. For the critical cases, or especially gory surgeries, he would pull up the shade so that they blocked him from the shoulders down so that you could only see his surgical cap and the surgery lights tentacles escaping from the surgery rooms' ceiling. 

I, to this day, have no idea why they hired me. As I recall it, and I dare think that my father can't argue this, Dr. Barsanti, and my dad were not close friends. To put it nicely, out of respect for my father, I will say that I think that my dad was probably not one of his "favorite clients" I am not even sure we were "good clients." I know that on at least two separate occasions my dad called him in the middle of the night because our obsessive Border Collie had come home covered in porcupine quills. Our dog, Bonnie, had porcupine quills embedded in her face to the point that she could not close her mouth. Those quills were stuck in every square inch of her face, neck, front feet, and worst of all her tongue and mouth. She was the canine version of pin head. I know my dad was infuriated that she came back in that state (definitely more infuriated on the second assault), and I know my mom pleaded with him to call Dr. Barsanti. For reasons that still escape me Dr. Barsanti told my dad that he could bring her over to the hospital so she could stay there overnight, sedated, so his three kids didn't have to listen to her cry all night in the laundry room.

Bonnie also got pregnant twice. Two litters of 9 and 13 puppies. We never did figure out who Bonnie shacked up with. For my 15 years of living up there in the freezing cold Arctic tundra, where the snow only melts long enough to let the massive swarming mosquito and black fly population suck the last tiny remnants of vitamin D any living creature has left coursing through their vasoconstricted veins, it was a lonely life. Where she met a lover when I could never even meet a friend is a true testament to her OCD. She must have traveled miles, at least to the next county, where there was actually entertainment (a roller skating rink). I went back to visit after I graduated from vet school and like many of us have had to do at some point in our lives, I apologized for my parents. I think that my youth must have distorted my memory, or in typical veterinary fashion, (which I now understand, acknowledge, and own) he told me that he had no recollection of any of that. He just said that he remembered me growing up in their house, playing with their son, watching every patient, every surgery, and riding his coattails through every corner of their clinic. It is a valuable life lesson to learn to see and only remember the world through rose colored glasses and a half-full glass.

As I left for college, and my siblings followed, my parents started to fill their emptying nest with dogs. In particular Jack Russell dogs. 4 years of veterinary college and they never thought to ask me about their dog preferences, purchases, or pet care. Jack Russell's are best singly, unless you have horses and they have something else to focus on, than each other. My parents went from a terribly OCD breed to the worst OCD breed. Jacks, like paranah are best if they have their sights focused on a kill. If they don't have a target in their sights they can turn on each other. Many a client has walked into our clinic with one of their dogs sporting war wounds inflicted upon them by a sibling. To this day, my parents run their home like a penitentiary. The dogs are let out in shifts and only with certain other dogs, or a brawl will begin and everyone is put in lock down.

Many of my parents generation also still believe that spaying and neutering will change the personality of their dog. It is a fight I have conceded to stop losing sleep over. It is a small attempt to tolerate rose lens. It is a discussion I hear myself saying all to often. My speech goes like this; "If you got your dog to be your pet then spaying or neutering is the best way to keep your pet safe and healthy. An unneutered dog has a different agenda then staying at home where he is safe and sound. His hormones will encourage him to roam to find a mate. The huge majority of hit by car animals that I see are unneutered males. Ontop of roaming they will likely mark their territory by lifting their leg to urinate all over your property. This may include the inside of your home. Spaying will protect your dog from unwanted pregnancies, (which trust me do happen), and uterine infections, also known as, a pyometra. I tell my clients that if you don't spay your dog, and your dog lives long enough, there is a very high likelihood that I will be spaying her at some point in the future because of mammary tumors, unwanted litters, or worse of all a pyometra. I would estimate that 95% of the dogs we see at the clinic are spayed. Of those remaining 5% that live past age 10, 85% of them need an emergency spay surgery because they have developed a uterine infection. It is far more dangerous and expensive to spay them when they are sick and dying of a uterine infection. Also, in the US alone, we euthanize 2 plus million animals a year because there aren't enough homes for all of the dogs and cats in the US. SO help save a life, and  please, spay and neuter your pet, because you love them, at age 6 months old."

My parents never took my advice with this either.

One Sunday a few months ago my dad brought Cait, their 14 year old female Jack Russell, in to see me because she was not eating and was lethargic. An x-ray,  blood work panel, and ultrasound few minutes later and it was discovered that she had a severe uterine infection.

I vividly remember telling him that "If I didn't do her spay surgery right now, she would likely be dead by morning, and even if I did do the surgery right now, I couldn't guarantee she would live through it." 20 minutes later Cait was belly up on the surgery table.

Thankfully, her surgery went well. And she is a new dog now.

Surgically removing a dilated, pus-filled rotten uterus is a surgical procedure that most dogs should not have to go through. Most dogs present just like Cait did. Painful bellies, lethargic, not eating, and dying of internal infection. There is no reason not to spay your female pet. The old wives tale about "them getting fat, or changing their personality" is ridiculous. It is as silly as saying that "40 is old." (Remember being 10 and thinking that 40 was approaching the grave? 40 is the new 20. Isn't that what I am telling myself? Aren't you all telling yourself that too?) Your dog will get fat if you overfeed and under exercise. In fact, that's the same for all of us. And if a change in personality means that they choose to stay home with you, then your pet is probably living up to the expectations that you had for them in the beginning.

I will however note that I have had more than 1 male client react to the discussion of neutering their pet as a deeply painful personal insult. To them I remind them that "I am proposing to remove their dogs testicles and not their own."

This is NOT what your uterus should look like. This is a swollen dilated, full of pus, uterus. It is engorged with blood because the body is trying with all its might to fight the infection. It is also very fragile. We take great care in being very gentle so that the uterus doesn't rupture and spill its contents into the abdomen.
Cait recovering post-op

1 comment:

  1. Hoping Cait is just fine, poor girl.

    The pictures of her uterus disturbing. How awful she had to go through that experience.

    I get my dogs spayed and neutered early, selfishly I suppose, but works for us.

    I do NOT want puppies, nor do I want any wandering dogs out looking for a 'good time' and being lost to us. I also have no desire to have my female dogs coming into heat and dripping blood all over the house. Not nice and not necessary!

    Spaying and neutering just makes sense. And if an owner cannot afford it financially to have the surgery done they really should not have a dog (cat) because spaying/neutering only the tip of the iceberg! Really.

    Said goodbye to my buddy Josh a week ago. Seeing him go relatively easy compared to having to think about it and book the appointment. He is at peace and no longer in pain.

    I do wish we as humans had the same option. Anyone have thoughts on that?