Friday, March 30, 2012

The Broken-Eared

This is an installment in the ongoing Vet Tech Tales - Part 2 series.


“Animal Clinic. How may I help you?”

I always dreaded answering the phone when I was covering for Joan, our receptionist. What If the caller asked a question I didn’t know the answer to? I couldn’t very well refer every inquiry to one of the vets. What if I gave someone the wrong information?

My heart sped a little faster at the pause on the other end. Someone trying to figure out how to ask a question never boded well.

“Yeah, um, I was wondering … do you guys treat Dobermans?”

Perhaps I’d misheard. “Dobermans?” I repeated.

“Yeah, ‘cause, you know, some vets I’ve called say they won’t treat them.”

I blinked. That was news to me. “Well, we see them all the time here. What are you needing?”

“His shots.”

I took down the caller’s name, Rick Juarez, and set up a time. Only after I’d scheduled the appointment and we’d hung up did I stop to think maybe it was this particular Doberman other vets refused to treat. Maybe it was vicious toward other dogs. Maybe it had threatened a staff member or two at other clinics.

As the appointment time approached, I warned the vets about my fears. We steeled ourselves for a potential hostile encounter.

I happened to be at the reception desk when Rick came in. Alone. Without his dog. He scouted the room, seeing only one elderly woman with a Pekingese tucked away safely in a crate. He seemed satisfied and approached the desk to fill out the new-client paperwork. While he was occupied, I stole a surreptitious peek out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of the dog in his car. No luck.

Rick handed back the completed papers. “I’ll go get Rocky.”

I nodded. While Rick headed outside I ducked into the back to get my coworker, Charla -- just in case. She grabbed a roll of gauze we could use as a makeshift muzzle at need and followed me back to the reception desk.

The cowbell tied to the door frame jangled and Rocky lunged into the room, straining against his collar. When he saw us, his nails scrabbled wildly against the slick tile as he fought the leash to reach us.

Charla and I looked at each other, daring the other to be first to laugh. The black-and-tan monster confronting us couldn’t have been more than 10 weeks old. The puppy yipped in frustration. We knelt beside him to share the kisses the gangly youngster was so eager to give.

In hindsight, Rick may well have heard that some vets would not crop ears – a practice many were ethically against – and assumed that extended to not seeing the breed at all. As it was, Rocky returned to us a couple of weeks later to have his ears reshaped from hound-dog floppy to stiff-soldier erect. 

Rocky’s was the first ear crop I ever assisted with. Later, I would do ear crops myself. Later, there would be many things I did – neuters, dentistry, declaws – that owners never realized weren’t being done by the vet. The laws in Texas at the time stipulated only that treatment and non-invasive surgeries needed to be supervised by a vet, not performed by one. And that was generally interpreted to mean a vet needed to simply be on the premises, not necessarily in the same room.   

Even later, there were many things I refused to do because it finally became clear to me they were not in an animal’s best interest. Ear cropping was one. But until Rocky I had never seen it done.

Once Rocky was sedated, I shaved his ears and lathered them with disinfectant. Dr. Norris marked the cut lines using mainly judgment as his go-by. Then, just as you’d cut a dress pattern from a piece of cloth, he cut the ears to shape. I winced as a thin stream of blood spurted into the air from a wayward bleeder. Using a small pair of hemostats, Norris quickly clamped the bleeder off then began the tedious process of sewing together the edges of the first ear – up one side, down the other, repeat on the second ear. Meanwhile I stood by and sopped up the blood pooling along the unsewn cut lines.

Even well-shaped and well-cut Doberman ears do not immediately stand on their own. The cartilage has to be trained to hold the ears erect. After the ears were sewn, Dr. Norris cut two 2-inch swaths from a thick roll of cotton and handed me one along with a roll of adhesive bandage tape. I followed his lead in wrapping the cotton swath tightly, producing a stiff cylinder about 5 inches long and an inch in diameter. We then tucked the bottoms of the cylindrical forms into Rocky’s ear canals and wrapped the pinnas – the loose flaps of ear – around each form, using gauze to protect the still-raw edges before taping the ear from base to tip around the form. Pieces of tape stretched between the ears held the ears up and parallel to one another at the top of the head.

Rocky would have to wear this helmet gear for 2 weeks before we cut it off to remove the stitches. Then we’d insert new forms and re-tape his ears, which he’d wear for another 4-6 weeks barring infection or an over-active pup scratching or rubbing the contraption off.

When Rick came to pick up Rocky the next morning I noticed the bags under his eyes and an overall haggard look about him. I lifted an eyebrow. “Long night?”

“Yeah. Working.”

“A night shift? That sucks.”

He laughed. “Things could be worse.”

“Maybe. Where do you work?”


I knew I was staring. I couldn’t help it. Chippendale’s was a male strip club, the first to open – and only recently at that – in this conservative city of a couple of hundred thousand.  I was barely old enough to get into Chippendale’s doors and here was one of the strippers right in front of me – in the flesh, so to speak.

Only he didn’t look like what I thought one of the strippers might. He had a compact and fit body, that much was true. And his face, with its beginnings of a 5 o’clock shadow, certainly wouldn’t scare anyone away. But when I tried to imagine him rocking it away onstage for a group of screaming women my imagination wasn’t up to the task. Rick just looked normal – and tired. Not like a fantasy guy at all.

It could also be he was pulling my leg. He could just as easily have been a stock boy in a 24-hour store or an attendant for an all-night service station. Maybe “Chippendale’s” was just his come-on line.

“So what’s the tab for Rocky?”

 “Um—” I returned my attention to the business at hand. “Seventy-five dollars.”

Rick nodded, then reached into the deep pocket of his loose-fit jeans and pulled out a wad of bills. All ones.

“Sorry.” He grinned a little sheepishly as he began counting, smoothing out the length-wise creases as he laid the bills on the countertop.

Before that moment it had never occurred to me how strippers spent those tips tucked into their G-strings.

Back in the kennel, l removed a decidedly unhappy Rocky from his cage. I couldn’t be sure if Rocky was more depressed over having been abandoned into our care or being forced to wear the equivalent of a beanie cap – or braces – in public. Even my sugar-sweet “good puppy” couldn’t elicit so much as one wag of his stump of a tail.

When he saw Rick, though, he squirmed in delight, dancing around his owner as soon as I put him down. Daddy! He hadn’t been abandoned after all!

We saw Rocky again to take out his stitches two weeks later, and then, unexpectedly, a week after that. While Rick was at work one night, Rocky managed to scratch the tape off one ear and to dislodge the rolled-cotton form. Not yet built up enough to the point of handling the weight of the erect ear, the cartilage in the middle of the pinna broke down over the next few hours, causing the ear to flop over at the breakpoint. The damage was beyond the ability of tape and forms to correct.

Had Rocky been destined for the show ring, his career would have been over that day. Rick, though disappointed, accepted the outcome with a philosophical shrug. “I only got his ears cropped because everyone does. Give him that fierce Doberman look, you know. But that bent ear makes him look kind of adorable, doesn’t it?”

I don’t think I’d ever been so much in love with a male stripper as I was right then. Any man who could look past the shape of his dog’s ears was pretty much all right in my book.

And another advantage for having him as a client: After a visit from Rick and Rocky, it would be days before we found our cash drawer short of dollar bills.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dogma – In Dogs We Trust

Welcome to Week 6 of the I <3 Dogs Tour. This week's theme: favorite dog/pet stores in your area. 

Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! 

Today's guest post is by Karen Hartman

Just a few steps from my home there exists a little slice of doggie heaven. It’s a gourmet dog bakery and boutique called Dogma. Established in 2000, Dogma’s goal is to provide “the local community with a unique selection of products and outstanding customer service that you may not find in a ‘big box’ store.” And what a selection it has! From clothing and collars to treats and toys, there’s something for every dog and dog owner.

Dogma Storefront
The store’s main feature is the bakery. They bake their own treats and use only human-grade ingredients.  Per the store site, they don’t add salt, sugar or preservatives of any kind.  “No fancy colored frosting, just cream cheese or yogurt with vegetable dyes made from spinach, beets or blueberries.”  They even make their own ice cream! There are always some samples available, so your dog can test out a new treat.

Dogma's Bakery Display
What dog wouldn't like to take a bite out of a squirrel or mailman?
Dogma also has a wide variety of dog food and packaged treats. I call it the Wonderful Wall of Tastiness. Buttercup loves the Taste of the Wild brand food. It’s grain-free and fairly small, so I can give it as a treat in addition to her regular meals.  She also likes the Fruitables – organic, all-natural, gluten-free chewy treats. And I like them because they’re not too big—just right to use for training without ruining her dinner or her girlish figure.

Wonderful Wall of Tastiness
 I also like Dogma’s selection of leashes and collars. The staff helped me select a really cute pink reflective martingale collar for Buttercup from the computer catalog. It wasn’t a stock item, so they ordered it and called me as soon as it arrived. They also have a variety of clothing, art, stationery, crates, and dog-themed household items. Where else can you find a game called Beagle-opoly?

Leashes, collars, toys, and more
And if that isn’t enough, Dogma even has a grooming salon on site to keep your dog looking good.  Cassandra Reed, a local groomer, leads the salon staff. You can also choose to just have them brush your dog's teeth, trim nails, or give a bath. They even have a quick "Dip and Dine" option for those visiting one of the local restaurants.

Cassandra Reed (second from the right) and her grooming staff
One of Cassandra's pretty pups
While Dogma’s selection, service, and location are great, the thing I like most is the store’s community involvement. They support a variety of adoption and rescue events and are part of "Operation Socialization", an organization devoted to providing resources for puppy owners. That alone is enough to give it Buttercup and my stamp of approval. (And the mailman treats don’t hurt, either.)

Thank you for visiting!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

When Breeds Collide

This is the Animal Junkie's second post for Week 5 of the I <3 Dogs Tour. This week's theme: The gorgeous, the active, and the unique. Tell us your favorite dog breed. 

Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! And remember, if you'd like a copy of Vet Tech Tales: Vol 1, just let me know in the comments or by email. I'll be happy to send you a FREE e-copy in the format of your choice.


Way back in my early 20s I was involved with dog shows. My best friend and fellow vet tech at the time was big into shelties. (Why is it I seem to collect sheltie people?). For a while I volunteered at the local breed shows and spent weekends watching shelties parade around an arena or compete in obedience trials.

Wonderful as they are, I never fell heart over heels for shelties.

I thought chows could be “my breed.” I certainly liked them and I hit several breed shows to be around them. I realized soon enough, though, that a high-maintenance dog such as a chow, or even a sheltie, wasn’t for me. My lifestyle demanded tough, solid, short-haired and medical-problem-free dogs.

I chose the Doberman. My first pup was a red: Lady Robin Hood. Light on her feet and graceful, she reminded me of a deer. She wasn’t a conformation dog, though. By the time I settled on “my breed,” I had decided breeding to a standard was a ritual I didn't want to participate in. It wasn't so much the ones that made it to the arena that bothered me as what happened to the many, many throw-aways that weren’t born the breed ideal.

 And while I’ve done my share of tail docking and ear cropping – oh yes, I’ve wielded the scissors myself and kept dozens of puppies in ear forms and bandages to produce those never naturally pointed and erect ears – my dogs would never go through that. Since “natural” was an unfavorable look, even had my deer-like Robin met the standards otherwise, my droop-eared pup would never have been invited into the conformation ring.

Not My Dobie Pup
We went the obedience route instead. At breed shows it was evident who, people-wise, were there for the conformation side. First Robin, then my second Doberman girl – the black-and-tan Morgan le Fey – was snubbed by the “true” Doberman lovers. How dare I bring an uncropped dog to a breed show! When one woman in particular patted my hand and said in the most condescending voice possible, “It’s OK, I know not everyone can afford to have their dog’s ears properly done,” I realized I actually enjoyed having my dogs there even more. We were making a statement in an in-your-face-passive-aggressive way. Kind of my trademark.

It was with great delight that I raised my voice to be sure she – and maybe a few others – heard as I explained that, being a vet tech, I not only could do the cropping myself but could point to a handful of dogs there whose ears I’d cut and sewn and for whom I’d hand-rolled the forms then stuffed into the pups’ ears for weeks to train them to stand. “Why,” I finished, “would I ever choose to put my own lovely dogs through all that pain and discomfort?”

Breeders, breed shows and I parted ways soon enough. Later I acquired, by choice again, two more dobies – littermates – when I moved out by myself to a rough, rural area. Dobies attracted me with their tough, lean looks; their reputations, which make most people automatically leery of them; and their fierce, fierce loyalty.

Phoenix (the original) and Lance
 Sadly, it’s the very act of dog breeding that leads in part to millions of dogs being killed yearly. We have dozens of puppy mills in our area churning out purebreds by the thousands. Even “responsible breeders” produce more puppies than is sustainable in our world.

Which is all a very round-about way of saying that my thinking has changed about dog breeds over the years from being a supporter of maintaining the breeds we have today and developing new ones for tomorrow to being anti-breeding programs. I’m no means a vigilante. My days of activism are behind me. The most anti-establishment I get these days is refusing to help my neighbor – who breeds Golden Retrievers and, in some ways, treats her dogs better than I treat mine – to artificially inseminate her bitches when they either won’t, or can’t, breed naturally.    

My vote, then, for favorite dog type, not breed, goes to any dog that’s been spayed or neutered. Until our animal populations are under control and every homeless dog is homed, we have a responsibility to the species above any individual breeds. Breed-specific rescue groups are, of course, an excellent way to celebrate breeds while staying true to the good of the species.

One of my current favorite types - my boy, Loki

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Smart and True - the Shetland Sheepdog

It's Week 5 of the I <3 Dogs Tour. This week's theme: The gorgeous, the active, and the unique. Tell us your favorite dog breed. 

Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! And remember, if you'd like a copy of Vet Tech Tales: Vol 1, just let me know in the comments or by email. I'll be happy to send you a FREE e-copy in the format of your choice.


Today's guest post is by Karen Hartman

If you’ve been reading my guest posts, it should come as no surprise that I’m quite partial to the Shetland Sheepdog. It’s a playful, loyal, intelligent breed that will capture your heart in the blink of an eye. I’ve already shared some pictures of my Shelties in previous posts. The ones in this post are from the Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue, so you can see a variety of Shelties – and some of them are available for adoption!

Alvin, Theodore, and Simon
Our first Sheltie, Princess, gave us a happy introduction to life with her kind. She was incredibly smart and always eager to please. She learned commands quickly and executed them promptly (a few treats didn’t hurt) – sit, stay, crawl, lie down, play dead, and more. When she played with her toys, she would bite all around until she found the squeaker part and would squeak and squeak it until we played with her. Oh, she was a smart one all right.

She was also an amazing watch dog. One time when we were visiting my parents, I had left the house, but forgot something and came back in. My mother was in a far part of the house and didn’t hear me re-enter, but Princess did. That little dog ran to my mother and barked at her, tilting her head in a scene reminiscent of a Lassie episode. Mom knew the pup was trying to tell her something, as Princess rarely barked. Looking out the window, my mother saw my car pulling away a second time and chuckled to herself, “What a smart little dog!”

About the barking. Shelties have a reputation for being pretty vocal, especially if you have more than one. That’s one of the biggest complaints people have about them. Strangely, neither of our Shelties barked much. Usually the only times were to alert us to possible intruders.  Not that I’m complaining, believe me!

Little Lady
Another complaint people have is with the shedding. Shelties have two layers of hair – a rough outer coat that repels water and a soft, thick undercoat that regulates temperature. They usually shed their coats twice a year, often with hair coming out in clumps. It’s important to brush them regularly to reduce any matting.

Grooming isn’t much trouble, though. They might not like the water much, but shelties let you bathe and dry them easily enough. Even clipping toenails is pretty easy. The real fun comes when you’re done – they tear around the house in wide, crazy circles, coming close to playfully nudge you during each lap.

Yes, the nudging. Well, it starts as a nudge. It usually ends up being an all-out herding event, with playful nips and jumps. Mine typically herd me to take them outside or to give them food or a treat. Some people enroll their Shelties in agility, flyball, and herding competitions, where they easily dominate the scene.

Agility Sheltie and Sheltie Who Knows They're Something Special
(not their real names)
I don’t mind the herding, although some people do. I actually enjoy the Sheltie’s playful side. But I think perhaps their best trait is the tendency to be Velcro dogs. You know, the kind that is always with you, like a shadow on a sunny day. Their companionship is such a joy; my husband and I can’t imagine our lives without them!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Foster Flunkie

Today's post is part of the I <3 Dogs Tour Week. Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! And remember, if you'd like a copy of Vet Tech Tales: Vol 1, just let me know in the comments or by email. I'll be happy to send you a FREE e-copy in the format of your choice.

Today's guest post is by Karen Hartman

A few years after our first Sheltie died, my husband Tim and I wanted to help other Shelties find forever homes. We decided to help by fostering Shelties in our area, so we found a nice rescue and filled out the appropriate paperwork. Soon after, the group contacted us to schedule a home visit. One of the volunteers came to our home with her Sheltie. She was very thorough, asking us lots of questions and watching intently as we interacted with her and her dog.  We must have passed the test, as we were quickly added to the foster system.

The foster coordinator had a list of dogs entering the rescue group and worked hard to match them up with foster families. She tried to give newbie fosters (like us) an easy first dog, to get our feet wet. Ours was a scared little blue-eyed girl named Buttercup.

Buttercup was very thin, weighing only 10 pounds. She needed to put on at least 3-4 pounds. She had flaky, crusty ears and the hair was missing on most of her legs. She trembled as I put her into the car, and I wondered what kind of tragic life she had been living. I brought Buttercup to our home and, once she was inside, I took the leash and collar off her. She immediately went to “hide” under a side table in the living room and watched my every move. Each time I walked near her, she cowered.

After a few hours, I tried to take her outside. I called to her, but she wouldn’t come near me. I started towards her with the leash and she ran away, into another room. As I tried to coax her back onto the leash, I recalled the foster coordinator telling us to keep the leash and collar on her for the first day or two. If only I had remembered that guidance sooner! Buttercup eventually fell asleep, and I took that opportunity to slip the collar and leash back on.

For the first few days, Buttercup was quite wary. I took her for a medical checkup and got some ear drops, pills, and special shampoo from the vet. She was apprehensive, but willing as we applied the ointment to her ears and gave her a bath. Little by little, we started to bond as her trust in us grew.

After a couple of weeks, her ears were better and she was putting on a little weight. Her hair was also starting to grow back in. And she was even starting to show a playful side. Soon she was healthy enough to be sterilized, a requirement for every Sheltie that the rescue received.  

Dec. 2009: Just a few months later - what a difference!

I kept the rescue updated on Buttercup’s progress and sent a personality profile with pictures for them to post on their website for potential adopters to consider. Tim and I would scour the adopters list, trying to find a family that would be a good match for this timid little girl. But every time we read through the list, we found reasons to reject each one. Oh, those people have little children – that would be too much for her. Hmmm, these people have another dog – I’m sure she wouldn’t like that very much.

Two years in and it's clear who rules this household.

Meanwhile, Tim would whisper loudly to Buttercup in my presence, “Maybe if you ask her nicely, she’ll adopt you!” I knew then that she had found her forever home. I quickly informed the rescue that we wanted to adopt Buttercup and shared the news on the group email. That’s when we learned they had a term for people like us – the ones who kept the fosters they took in. We were called foster flunkies. I’ve never been more pleased about flunking something in my life! And I’m pretty sure Buttercup was pretty happy about it, too.  

It’s been almost three years now. Buttercup is still pretty timid, but she’s definitely part of our pack. She has a full, beautiful coat of hair and she’s gained a good five pounds. She’s learned how to sit, shake, lie down, and wait, and she loves treats and licking the toothpaste off her toothbrush. She continues to be hesitant with strangers and uneasy around other dogs, but we’re working on that. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

May I Have the Envelope, Please?

Today's post is part of the current I <3 Dogs Tour Week: Favorite Animal-Related Media. Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! And remember, if you'd like a copy of Vet Tech Tales: Vol 1, just let me know in the comments or by email. I'll be happy to send you a FREE e-copy in the format of your choice.


And the Winner Is...

So many wonderful contenders for the top spot in my heart! In the end, though, choosing my absolute favorite animal-related book/movie wasn't hard at all.

I don't remember how old I was when I first read Black Beauty. Certainly young enough that the idea of cruelty to animals was new to me. I'd never heard of tail docking much less the use of bearing reins, and had never considered how the exploitation of animals might be harmful. Even if people did make animals work, they were kind to them, right?

Black Beauty was my first glimpse into the dark side of humanity and it gave me my first understanding of the nature of cruelty. Though at the time I would never have had the words to express it as such, it sparked in me a moral outrage that set my young and impressionable conscience ablaze.

But for all that, the themes of abandonment and abuse, neglect and wasted life would never have been so clear had not the themes of love and loyalty been painted in such achingly beautiful contrast.

It's been many years since I've read Black Beauty and it could well be simply nostalgia and a child's awakening that color my remembrances -- save for one thing: A fairly faithful movie adaptation recently stirred those same coals of moral outrage and managed still to reach in and touch my hard adult heart.

 And the Runner-Up Is ...

In the 1960s, comic books were ubiquitous. You could find racks upon spinning racks of them in drugstores and grocery stores and at the local 5-and-Dime. They were mainly "boy" books but I sneaked plenty of peeks at the ones my brother bought. The first one I ever spent my precious allowance on wasn't a superhero book but a gorgeously illustrated comic book adapted from Ernest Thompson Seton's popular collection of short stories, Wild Animals I Have Known.

It was undoubtedly the best 12 cents I ever spent.

Since comic and anthology are both prefaced with it, it's no spoiler to say that Seton's stories of noble and heroic animals all end tragically. Let me tell you it's hard enough to read the anthology (which I begged for after reading the comic book since the comic book contained only a handful of the stories collected in the antho), but adding visuals reinforced Seton's lessons about the brutality of life in a profound and truly unforgettable way.


Two of the stories that affected me most:

A mother rabbit battling a half-frozen river tries to save her tiny son. She manages to save him but not herself as her gentle eyes close in acceptance and, buoyed by the river and surrounded by ice floes, her body floats away while her stricken son looks on.

After a two-day ordeal, a magnificent wild mustang is chased to the edge of a cliff by a wrangler and his team of relay horses. As a lasso whistles toward him, the mustang deliberately plunges over the cliff. I may not remember the final line perfectly but I do remember it well enough: "Down, down, two hundred downward feet to fall to land upon the rocks below, a lifeless wreck but free."


My favorite animal stories taught me about abuse and death and ultimate sacrifice in a safe if heart-wrenching way. Vicarious and cathartic, these stories helped shape my ethics and my heart. I'm forever grateful for every tear they made me shed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


This is an installment in the ongoing Vet Tech Tales - Part 2 series, which has recently become more of an ad-hoc feature rather than a regular one (working on that, though!).

For updates on Buffy, the sweet rescue we me last week, please visit Wilkins MacQueen's blog for new pictures and current status. I think you'll agree it's already an amazing transformation!

On Thursday, I'll share what my favorite animal movie and book are for the I <3 Dogs Blog Tour in support of the Pawsibilities R Us rescue organization. Check their blog for this week's prize!

It wasn’t long before the veterinary clinic became the epicenter of my life. No longer just a job or a career, working there became a vocation that consumed me. Every other weekend off turned into every weekend on. Paying straight time meant Dr. Norris didn’t much care who was there in the clinic at need – only that someone was. And since I demonstrated not just enthusiasm for the back kennel work but an aptitude for the “medicine” part of the veterinary medicine profession, the vets began to use me in other capacities around the clinic as well.

At first I assisted with prepping dogs and cats for surgery, shaving them down and disinfecting the surgical sites then stretching them out on the surgical table and tying them into position using bits of cord slipped around their paws and looped around a series of hooks attached to the table’s edge.

I also learned not just how to set up fecal samples to test for parasites, but how to distinguish between the types of microscopic eggs to determine what kind of worms a dog or cat might be carrying.

I watched, absorbed and recorded, determined to be as useful as possible outside the kennel area.

But learning the nuts and bolts of how to do medicine was a very different process from understanding how to work with the animals and owners to practice medicine.  

When Chewbacca came through the door, I was reminded again that my job didn’t exist because there were animals in need but because there were people who cared whether an animal was in need or not.

The year-old brindle pup that walked into the exam room could have been a magnificent boxer. He certainly had the frame and size to command a double-take. Instead of lean muscles and a confident look, though, he came to us with a xylophone ribcage and warm brown eyes that pleaded for nothing more than a little attention.

Despite Chewie wearing a studded leather collar, his person, Steve, had looped a piece of rope around his neck and was using the makeshift lead to guide him along.

When I stooped down to lift the underweight dog onto the exam table, Chewie cowered. Though his paws didn’t move, he shifted and flattened away from me, clearly expecting that I was going to hurt him. The flayed skin and deep wounds around his neck certainly looked painful, and my first thought was that he had been in a dogfight.

“There’s a good boy,” I reassured him as I moved carefully to gather him close. His stump of a tail twitched once in hope.

“He’s my neighbor’s dog,” Steve said as I placed Chewie on the cold exam table where he began to tremble. “I got the guy’s permission to bring the dog in but honestly he doesn’t deserve to have him back.”

One up-close look and I had to agree. Steve was using the length of rope as a lead not out of convenience but from need. The open wounds around Chewie’s neck weren’t bite wounds. Much of the inch-wide studded leather collar was embedded in the dog’s thick neck.

No doubt the collar fit fine when it was first buckled onto a new two- or three-month-old puppy. Over the months, however, the pup had grown and the owner had never thought to adjust the collar or apparently even notice anything wrong. How could anyone live with an animal and not notice? Or if they did notice, not do something to rectify it?

An embedded collar is an indicator not of someone briefly distracted by a family emergency but of ongoing and deliberate neglect. That the wound was trying to heal around the collar told us the it had been too tight for weeks if not months, slowly eating into the flesh.

“I’ll have to sedate him to cut the collar out,” Dr. Norris told Steve. “Which one of you will be responsible for the bill?” A cold-sounding question to be sure, but a practical one given the circumstances.

Steve sighed. “That would be me, I guess. But tell me, if I do pay for this, am I obligated to give the dog back? By law, I mean?”

“Chewie still belongs to your neighbor. If he won’t surrender the dog voluntarily you’ll need a court order to take him away.” The look Dr. Norris gave Steve was long and deliberate. “At least legally.”

I stroked the big boxer’s head to distract him while Dr. Norris administered the sedative. Cutting out the collar proved tricky. Chewie had no extra folds of skin along his neck to stretch over the open wound, which in some areas was an inch-and-a-half wide since the vet had to cut deep into healthy tissue to ensure infection wouldn’t set in. We put a loose bandage around Chewie’s neck to protect the raw areas that couldn’t be sutured closed. The wound would be painful for a couple of weeks while new skin and scar tissue grew in, but I was pretty sure Chewie would agree the short-term suffering was more than worth the trade-off over what he’d already been through and what the future would have held otherwise.

Chewie stayed with us 10 days, gaining nearly a pound a day. Charla and I fussed over him in our spare time and cheered him on to health. Slowly the magnificent dog he could have been became the magnificent dog he truly was.

Steve came by daily to check on Chewie’s progress. It was clear he was invested in the pup in more than a monetary sense – even more than a simple humanitarian sense. As their bond grew closer in the days following, there was no doubt that given the choice in all the world, Chewie would choose to be Steve’s dog. Chewie was responsive and loving toward me and Charla, but when Steve came to visit, his gaze followed Steve as they did no other. After all he’d been through and with hope so close, if he had to be returned to his former owner, I wasn’t sure Chewie would survive the heartbreak.

“He won’t go back,” Steve vowed to me about a week in. “I have an uncle in Lubbock who’ll take him, if it comes to that.” I nodded. Just because something’s legal doesn’t always mean it’s right.

In the end the neighbor proved reasonable and signed the dog over to Steve. I felt so proud that I had played even a small part in the two of them walking out the door together.

This, I felt sure, was what veterinary medicine was all about.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rescue Mommy Mac

Guest post by Wilkins MacQueen

This is a rescue in the making! Help cheer Buffy on to her road to recovery and a forever home. A poignant reminder that animal neglect is a worldwide issue -- Mac is a Canadian ex-pat who lives and teaches in Thailand. Mac originally posted about Buffy a couple of days ago on her blog, Elephants, Thailand and China.


This puppy has been laying outside the Teachers' Office for days. I couldn't stand it any more. I was trying to figure out how to get her the vet when my student Doi came along. She jumped in with a "I'll help you, Teacher!"

We put the puppy in a box, found a taxi and off we went. This sad little girl is Buffy.
I had made my mind up to do something as soon as I finished my classes. I left a bowl of water out for her hoping she would stay put until I was free. She drank half of it. She never moved a muscle the whole trip. There is a resignation about her. She has given up. You can see the chunks of skin coming off her on the table.

Her ears look so sore, scratched raw from mange and a bacterial infection. She will be "plucked" and combed to remove the dead skin. She already started on her meds. She was 5% dehydrated. You can tell by the skin puckering.
That reddish blotch on her shoulder is an abcess. I heard her scream as they lanced/pierced it. At least that has to feel better now. Nothing is life threatening. Just ugly and sore. The bill so far is about 1,300 baht. That pays for one week of meds, board, and food; I assume she will also get bathed and I hope a dip is included.

She needs three weeks of treatment. Over 7,000 baht. That doesn't include spaying or shots or worming.

I hope you will follow her progress. I'll go and visit her in a few days when she's feeling better. Doi will put out a call for a forever home on Facebook for me. Doi wants to be a vet. I hope to find Buffy a home. I'll pay for the spaying and the shots. I'm in this.

Buffy is two months old. Tough way to start off life. I'm doing my best for her. She'll do her best for me and get well.

I just commented on a post here that I'd never have another dog. Showed me not to use "n" word.

If I can't find a home for her, I'll taker her back to the school, have a word with the security guards and feed her every day and keep an eye on her. Once they know she's my adoptee they'll be nice to her and at least she'll be off the street. Poor little muffin. I'd love to cuddle her, but so far I haven't touched her. Her skin has to be painful and I was not sure if she was contagious. I can go back and visit her at the vet's and start socializing my little waif.

Hey Buffy, somebody loves you. I swear it's going to be alright. Promise.

Mommy Mac