Puppies Rainbows Sunshine and Kittens
When I tell people what I do for a living (Veterinarian), I usually get one of four responses:
RESPONSE ONE: “Oh my gosh you are a vet! Well, my 8 year old female dog has had this nasty discharge from her hoo-hah for the past five months! I’ve been giving her Tetracycline from the feed store, but it isn’t getting any better! What do you think about that?”
RESPONSE TWO: “You are a vet? Well, last week I took my dog, Fifi to the vet because her breath is NASTY! They wanted to charge me TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS JUST TO CLEAN HER TEETH! That is an outrage! You must be rich!”
RESPONSE THREE: “You are a vet! Oh wow…my brother is too! Did you serve over in Afghanistan?”
RESPONSE FOUR: “Oh, that is SO wonderful! I love animals and people always told me I would make a good vet. You must love playing with the cute little puppies and kittens every day!”
Okay, so I’m generalizing a little bit, but not much. In future blogs I’ll address responses one and two. As for response three…I am only four feet tall, so it always fascinates me that people think I could be in the military. Anyways, today, I am going to talk about response four…what I call the “puppies rainbows sunshine and kittens” response.
Let me start by staying this…becoming a veterinarian is HARD. Just because you “love animals” does not mean you can be a vet. For starters, it requires eight years of schooling…generally four years of undergraduate studies and then another four years of veterinary school. If you want to specialize in something like surgery or ophthalmology, there is even further training. In order to graduate you have to pass courses such as Microbiology (Fun!), Anatomy and Physiology (Loved it!), and Organic Chemistry (the bane of my existence). Also, you’ve got Pharmacology, Immunology, Anesthesia, Internal Medicine, Virology, etc.
Also, keep in mind that after going to college for eight years, many veterinary students will graduate with a heavy amount of debt. We go to school as long as dentists and lawyers, accumulate the same amount of debt, and receive a starting salary far below any of the the other professionals. It is a problem.
After I graduated, I quickly realized that as hard as veterinary school was, it was merely laying a foundation for EVERYTHING else I still had to learn. For example, in school we discussed performing a C-section, and watched a video, but I never actually did one. The first one ever was on a sweet golden retriever that belonged to a sweet old woman…talk about pressure! Fortunately, it all went well and I had 12 cute, wiggling, chirping golden retriever puppies at the end of it. (Okay, so there is an example of playing with puppies)
Anyways, after veterinary school you must learn how to do medical workups for owners that have limited funds. You learn how to deal with clients that are frustrated, upset, angry, grieving, slightly bonkers, neglectful, and just flat out crazy. You learn to deal with different personalities of bosses/associates/technicians.
As a vet, you will routinely get puked on, peed on, bled on and pooped on. I quickly learned to keep my mouth SHUT when I was expressing a dog’s anal glands. You learn how to carefully watch the body language of dogs and cats, and how to deal with owners that insist there is NO way that their beloved FLUFFY is going to wear a muzzle….even if “FLUFFY” is a 90 pound German Shepard who wants to eat your head.
Have you noticed how much I’ve mentioned actually has to do with dealing with people? It slays me when people say “Oh, you must love being a vet because you don’t have to deal with people!” Dogs and cats come to the clinic with owners attached to them…people that I must communicate with if I have any hope of helping their pet.
After school, you also learn how much of your job deals with death. The most common cause of death in companion animals is euthanasia. As a vet, there will be some days or even weeks that you feel that all you do is help animals to die, and comfort their grieving owners. It is a sad day when I go to write up my charts and see a pile of sympathy cards waiting to be signed. You learn the stories of the owners and come to a deep understanding of how loved their pet has been, and how painful the loss is going to be for them. For example, I once euthanized an old cat that belonged to a woman who was a shut-in…the cat was literally her only friend and companion. Her home was full of pictures of the two of them together, from the time he was a kitten. His toys were scattered everywhere. After I put him to sleep and she said her goodbyes, I took his body back to the clinic and kept thinking about how alone this poor woman was now. My heart was very heavy that day.
So….if you or someone you know “wants to be a vet,” be sure you/they understand everything that it entails. You can’t just “love animals.”
That is the whole point of this blog….to try to show people the real side of veterinary medicine. It is a hard, frustrating, rewarding, entertaining, painful, stimulating career. It is full of life and death, triumph and failure, joy and grief. You have the opportunity to touch people’s lives, particularly when helping them cope with the death of a beloved dog or cat. And, every now and again, you actually do just get to play with the cute kittens and puppies.