When I was in high school l lived one door down from Dr. Jim Davis, a well-known veterinarian in our community. I knew him both as our dog, Heidi’s vet and as our neighbor and as such it was common for us to share an evening walk around Willowbrook circle with our dogs. He with his mutt, Miss Piggy Smith and I, with our Collie, Heidi.
I admired Doc not only because he was a Vet, my destined profession, but because he obviously loved animals like I did. As a devout animal lover from infancy, I just assumed that would lead me to become a vet too. So as I approached my high school graduation, I remember Doc asking me one evening what I planned on majoring in at college and I quickly proclaiming “I want to be a vet!”
I guess I expected him to respond with “You’ll make a great vet.” But he didn’t. Rather, he asked me why.
“Well, because I love animals.”
I was then really taken aback when he said something to the effect of “That loving animals was important but having an interest in medicine was equally so.” Geez, where did that come from?
Truthfully, I had been answering the “What you are going to be when you grow up?” question for so long with “a vet” and no one had ever brought to light such details. The medicine part had honestly NEVER occurred to me, nor did I have even a vague curiosity about the biological functions of an animal. Crippee. I really had thought I was a pretty smart kid – I’d skipped a year of math in junior high for crying out loud – but I was idiot child at that moment.
Thankfully the math would come in handy as I chose engineering a year later and set my sights on simply having a degree in something that would land me a good job. That seemed to be the preeminent goal. Not to do something fun, fulfilling or exciting but rather to make a good living so that I could take care of myself. Buy a nice house, a car, etc…all that stuff. And I did just that. I have a good job, make a good living, have a nice house, can pay all my bills without having to worry about my next meal and I have a houseful of animals to love.
And it would take until I was in my 40’s to realize that making a good living was not living a good life. And that it would take following my passion to realize that good life. Good and bad, happy and sad, there is something very special for me in helping animals in need. It’s my purpose in life. And even fourteen years later and in the most difficult of moments, I continue to rediscover that truth.
Again last night I found myself thinking of Dr. Davis and those words years ago and some others more recently. I had just rushed to the shelter with a puppy from my foster mommy born a few days ago. The puppy, Soli was one of the first two puppies born and her sister, equally as fragile had lived barely a day. All the other puppies were much larger and more robust than she but I was hopeful. Unfortunately she took a sudden downward turn on Thursday and despite all our best efforts, a trip to the vet and virtually constant monitoring, she suddenly was laboring to breath. I knew the truth.
Making arrangements to meet Ashlie, one of our euthanasia technicians at the shelter, I rushed her there. I don’t do suffering well and as I drove, I held Soli in the palm of my hand where I could feel her occasion bird-like gasps for air. While motionless otherwise and so weak that I could not hear them, I could feel the slight crackling of her lungs and knew she was struggling. But as I turned into our driveway, I realized that I couldn’t even feel those…anymore. She was gone.
I cried at this realization. I cried on poor Ashlie who had come in to help me. And I cried thinking that I would have to tell Michelle Earl who had helped care for Soli over the last few nights, giving me a break from the every 2 hour feedings, and had loved her as much as I. That in some way seemed the hardest. Having to share the grief with others.
Later when I pulled out of the parking lot headed back home I thought then that I would have made a lousy vet. Having to tell people that I had lost their beloved pet or that I couldn’t save them would have been too much for me. It was hard enough to handle my own loss…my own failure, let alone to have to share it with others.
With ample experience with many different vets both locally and in Columbus, I’ve been exposed to some that are excellent at giving the bad news. Others not so much. Some that are wonderfully skilled surgeons but not so at communication or in the displaying of compassion. Others filled with so much compassion and emotion that I have found myself consoling them rather than the other way around. But no matter, I suppose no one wants to be good at death.
Not surprisingly Doc has been in my head a lot lately anyway. Especially as we’ve been in search of a new veterinarian to join our SPOT Clinic team. Our search and some of its challenges have made me wonder about what sort of person we will find that wants to do the job we have to fill. It will take someone special that not only “loves the medicine” but understands our mission. It’s not just about making a living in our case, as I’m afraid the work itself will not be the most exciting or challenging or even lucrative. It is however about making a real difference. About helping through a surgical procedure to slow down the pet overpopulation problem in our community. Anticipating offering some additional services for the low income, it will also be about making a life-saving difference to a currently under-serviced segment of the animal owning population. Yes, someone special indeed will be called upon and I believe we’ll find them.
But as I turned out of our SPOT Clinic parking lot, Doc again popped into my head. That happens often as I look to the west on 29th street towards the site of our emergency shelter for the puppy mill rescue in 2008. An event that brought together not only disparate animal welfare organizations (Best Friends and HSUS had NEVER worked side by side in this manner ever!) but also volunteers from our community, Canada and as far away as Florida. And finally, veterinarians from around our community walked away from their own businesses and came together to help us! It was phenomenal and one of these most incredible experiences of my life. Witnessing what can happen when people come together for one cause was inspirational!
By 2008, Dr. Davis had retired from his own practice but he was there too. And like the others, he put in countless hours examining and treating the nearly 1000 dogs that were in our care. Standing all day in a makeshift shelter in less than ideal practice conditions, everyone’s dedication was remarkable. And yet most vivid, especially considering how cluttered and cloudy my mind was during those days, was one evening in particular.
Honestly I was an emotional mess by then with too many sleepless nights, too much stress, and too much chaos. For the first time in my life I had hyperventilated that morning when I discovered the only toilet in the entire building was broken. Probably doesn’t sound like a catastrophe but it was August, 50 volunteers and no bathroom. That had put me totally over the edge. But by evening, things had calmed down and as hard as it might be to imagine that a warehouse filled with over 900 dogs could be silent, it was. I would make another pass through the building and we’d close down for the day. But as I walked through what we called the nursery, there was Dr. Davis checking on one of the pregnant dogs. When I questioned why he was still there, he assured me that he had gone home earlier, had dinner with Sally (his wife) but then just felt like he needed to come back. As I assured him that he had put in enough time, that all were fine and thanked him again for his commitment, he said “No thanks needed, this is where I’m supposed to be.”
How all that comes flashing back in a millisecond as I turned out of our driveway last night, I cannot explain. Especially in the state of mind I was in. But as I pulled away, leaving little Soli behind and my mind scattered with thoughts, Doc Davis was there. And as I followed my all too familiar road home, I thought of Soli and what more I could have done for her, the other babies waiting for me at home, how badly I felt dragging Ashlie from her family and her having to console me, and too the packed parking lot and all the volunteers that were there but that I failed to appreciate. Casting another shadow on it all was a heaviness about the challenges of finding a new vet and an anger at those who are against us rather than for us during this time.
And like a gift, I heard Doc’s words but this time meant for me “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
No words could be any truer or more needed to remind me of exactly of where I belong.
Thank you Doc!
Years later when Doc passed away suddenly, I sent a condolence note to his wife Sally. Actually it was a letter as I had too much to say for any Halmark card. I wanted to be sure that Doc’s family understood how much he had meant to me. Both as a silly kid and years later as an adult during the very trying rescue, what a gift he had been to the animals in our care. I was taken aback when a few weeks later I received a card in return. It shared with me that Doc had felt that the rescue mission had, in fact been one of the greatest experiences of his life too.
Categories: Shelter Facts