The first time I encountered a veterinarian in my role as an animal control officer was not pleasant. Responding to an injured dog call, I found a little wire-haired terrier with a concussion, unconscious in the gutter. Since at that point I had no ties to veterinarians, I just went to the closest one, who turned out to despise animal control. With the limp dog on his stainless steel table top between us, he sneered, “This dog with die unless it has immediate intervention but I’m not going to do anything unless I am assured that I’m going to be paid.” He meant it.
I called Animal Control where Burgwin said, “The county will pay for basic emergency care but then you must bring it here to the shelter. The county will not pay for extensive care and if you authorize it, you will pay for it yourself.” This was the proper answer but not the moral or emotional one. Burgwin was relentless about turning an officer’s decisions back to the officer. With authority goes responsibility and decision-making, full on with consequences. The same as for military or for civilian police or -- come to look at it -- for doctors and veterinarians.
The dog was wearing a nice red harness with many tags attached. I called again, this time to find out the owner of the dog according to the most recent license. The owner didn’t answer the phone. I went back to the table where the dog had not stirred. The veterinarian had inserted an IV. We faced each other again. “I’m just keeping the animal alive while you decide what you’re going to do,” he said. “I can NOT afford to pay for every injured animal that comes in here!”
“But this is obviously a valued pet. We know who the owner is -- this is not an anonymous stray.”
His anger level went up. “People abandon their dear pets as soon as there’s a bill attached.” I suspect his practice was not doing well. Maybe his bedside manner.
I’d just moved to an apartment of my own and paid deposits and so on. Money was tight. Maybe he was right about the owner not appreciating his dog coming to the vet. None of my family ever took pets to the vet.
“Of course, what does animal control care? You people are so callous from killing hundreds of pets that you can hardly be expected to do anything. I’m surprised you brought this dog in here.”
I couldn’t hold out any longer. I slapped down my VISA. Then I left the dog there, now a private dog instead of an impound, and went to the address of the owner which proved to be a neat little brick house. I left a long note attached to the screen door. That evening, back at the shelter, the owner called with grateful thanks. The dog was still alive. She was paying the bill happily.
Burgwin didn’t criticize me for my decision. It was mine and I was lucky. He was happy for me that I was lucky.
Months later, in winter, I responded to an injured dog call that said a police officer was waiting. The dog was a black lab whose leg had been mangled by a car with studded tires. The officer had put the dog in the trunk of his squad car and stood by with the lid lifted, watching for me while guarding the dog from further injury. I thanked him -- he was almost in tears for the dog’s sake. The dog was stoic and grateful.
This time I had a developed friendship with Dr. Plamondon, founder of DOGS (Drinkers of Good Scotch) and one of the best veterinarians in town, much less my area, and since this was a good dog, wearing tags, I took the poor fellow to Dr. P. He didn’t ask any questions, just got to work sorting and sewing.
Dr. P. was a bit of a philosopher. We talked once about the appeal of animals and I compared cows to deer, with cows on the losing end. Dr. P. drew himself up and delivered an eloquent defense of the seductive beauty of the Brown Swiss Dairy Cow, entirely persuasive.
Once he told a very funny story at his own expense, about being in training with a prominent veterinarian when a customer rushed in the door early one morning and said, “Here’s my dog! Be sure you have him fixed by 5PM and I’ll pick him up after work.”
He was a very good dog, show quality, and Dr. P. wondered why the owner wanted him neutered, but he assumed the customer was always right and there must be circumstances he didn’t know, so he set to work right away. The dog would have the rest of the day to recover for the trip home.
But when the customer came back, he said, “Wait! His ears look just the same! Why didn’t you fix them?” He wanted them surgically altered to stick up, as is the custom with some breeds. (In England they don’t do that sort of thing anymore except to dock tails and dewclaws that would get torn or loaded with burrs in field dogs.) He was not happy to discover that a lot of stud fees had been surgically removed.
Dr. P. was a big man with hands to match, so somehow it was a little surprising -- but very endearing -- that his specialty was birds. One room was full of recycled premature baby isolettes for the recovery of exotic birds. I heard talk in there, stuck my head in, and saw macaws and parrots, all swearing and declaring and sometimes even singing bits of human songs. On another occasion I stuck my head in another door and discovered a springer spaniel joyfully having water therapy for his back in a bathtub full of hot water. His therapist was a rubber ducky.
It was wonderful to me, a happy privilege of my role, to be able to go in the back door of this veterinarian, as though I were part of the team. While Dr. P. worked on the black lab, I called the shelter to get the owner’s name and then called the owner. The owner said, “That dog is constantly getting into trouble and I’m tired of bailing him out. He can just take care of himself. I’m not paying any inflated bill from a tinhorn veterinarian. The dog can pay for himself. Maybe that will teach him.”
Dr. P.’s reaction was a bitter laugh. I drove over to the owner’s house and wrote him a ticket. He went to court to argue about it. I told the judge what had happened. He was ordered by the judge to pay the veterinarian bill as well as the highest fine possible. He didn’t get his dog back.
There was one veterinarian I learned to avoid -- all we female officers learned to avoid him -- because he always thought the animal should be “checked for ringworm” by carrying it into a small dark closet so he could shine an ultraviolet light on it and “accidentally” bump into the female officer’s front. Another was a crook who would put down foreign objects under the animal while taking an x-ray and claim that surgery was necessary to remove it. One of the services we provided to veterinarians was the removal of animals who had died or been euthanized, which was okay, but one veterinarian specialized in euthanizing slow greyhounds and sometimes there were a dozen of them, so many that there was no room for the live dogs in the truck. Burgwin ended that.
One of the veterinarians I enjoyed most -- maybe for the wrong reasons -- was an older divorced man who styled himself a feminist, and stocked “MS.” magazine in his waiting room. His staff seemed to be entirely pretty women under thirty, but that’s not unusual in a veterinary practice. Animals tend to attract “mommies.” (These days the women just go ahead and become veterinarians themselves.) Anyway, since he seemed open to sort of racy topics, I asked him a question for which I really wanted an answer.
Dogs in the throes of coition get stuck together -- “tied” in the jargon -- and I wanted to know how that happened. (For many observant young boys it’s a source of great worry -- until they find something worse when they run into the myths of the “vagina dentata” which bites off whatever is inserted, a myth so widespread that the Blackfeet have a story about Napi introducing a stone as a surrogate so as to break off all the teeth and make his partner a lot safer for him and his beloved parts.)
More important, I wanted to know how to get two dogs unstuck quickly so as to avoid the repeated debacle of the female running off, dragging her friend by a most inconvenient and painful appendage. Did throwing cold water on them really work? And whose fault was it anyway? Did the male swell up or did the female lock on?
A half-hour of diagrams and argument later, I was no wiser. It seems that the female dog has a sphincter just a bit inside the vagina entrance and this grabs during intercourse. But the male dog has a ring of flesh on his penis that swells up during intercourse. Both animals need to relax for these swellings and constrictions to ease. They are meant to stand there “tied” for a while to give the sperm some swimming travel time, which helps especially with dogs because there might be a serious size differential, unlike wolves or coyotes. The vet’s position was that fear would make both animals release. Otherwise, predators would be in luck. The female assistants were sceptical.
So the next time I came across the situation, which happened rather often since humans are so alarmed and repelled by the sight that they want it removed IMMEDIATELY, I tried scaring the two dogs. Either I wasn’t very scary or the female assistants were right. After that, I made sure that I was very late to the call so I could just pick up two separate animals, assuming they were still around.