Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh Bernie, My Bernie

As those of you who were members of my website's message boards or readers from the beginning, you would recall when I experienced the very deep loss of my beloved yellow lab July 31, 2006. Because of the transient life I spent with this dog as my education and career took me all over the country and even out of the country, the loss of Tiffany was all the more devastating, as places and people were frequently different, Tiffany was always my one constant.

Two weeks before Tiffany's passing, a 5 month old yellow lab had come into my clinic an dinto my life with a severely multiply fractured front arm, one the owners at the time could scarcely afford to have repaired. We subsequently had the owners sign the puppy over to us for the clinic to be financially and medically responsible for the necessary surgery and follow up care. The original plan was to foster him and once the recovery was complete, to place him with a nice family - for the time being, we named him Bernie.

After my Tiffany died, plans slowly began to change. While Bernie was a beautiful, playful, affectionate puppy, the loss of Tiffany was so fresh and very distressing, I harbored the feeling that I would never again have a dog like her, and I would at least need time to grieve before I could give my all to a new dog. As such, I felt it was not fair to keep Bernie, offering him a life where he would always be compared to Tiffany, possibly not giving him love from the depth of my being that a dog as sweet as he deserved.

However, during the physical therapy period of his recovery, Bernie developed such a passionate love, attachment, and loyalty to me, that it moved me a great deal. My wife told me that his bond with me was in fact not a gradual process, but pretty much immediate from the first day we brought him home - I was just too wrapped up in the sadness of watching my ailing Tiffany decline, then stricken by the grief of her death, to notice. At this realization, I knew full well that Bernie was going nowhere else, that he had in fact found his home with us, for me to begin a new chapter of my life, with a different dog.

I still went on with the expectation that Bernie had some very big shoes to fill. As it turns out, however, he never really filled Tiffany's shoes at all, but created his own pair to fill. While he possessed the core traits of the Labrador Retriever that I love - no leash necessary as they naturally stay at your side, very trainable, gentle, passionate water dogs, etc - he was nothing like Tiffany. Where Tiffany was very refined and regal, Bernie is a bit uncoordinated and awkward. Where Tiffany was highly intelligent, Bernie is definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed (I refer to him as my little Forrest Gump). While Tiffany was very deliberate, Bernie is a happy go lucky goofball.

The point of this story is that I see owners everyday devastated by the passing of their beloved pet. They feel as I did after Tiffany's passing, that they will never bond with another animal like the one that have just lost. They are correct that it will never be the same, but make no mistake, when the time is right, there will be other great animals in your life that you will love for a completely different set of reasons, yet with a sense of fulfillment of the same magnitude.

As for my Bernie, I understand that he is a great gift that was presented to me at a time when I needed him the most. He is 86 pounds of unconditional, goofy love, and treats my 7 month old son with such a profound gentleness that it is moving to see. I would not trade him for the world.

Bernie When We First Rescued Him

Bernie Now

Friday, January 23, 2009

Recharge My Batteries

As newly graduated veterinarians, we possess an eagerness to practice and take on cases that is akin to a child with a brand new bicycle. Getting up for work every day is a joy, not seen as simply a job, but a new opportunity to help animals and their families that love them, while embracing the challenge to utilize our intellect and training to achieve this to the best of our abilities. Following the first couple of years after having seen many of the same kinds of ailments, disease patterns, and of course, having administered countless vaccines, and only being stimulated with novel and challenging cases on occasion, that initial excitement begins to give way to the feeling that being a vet really is a job after all. Rather than wake up every morning with an eagerness of a new graduate, one simply says, "I have to go to work." I do not care how ambitious, focused, grateful, or compassionate one may be, no one, including myself, is immune to these feelings. The good news is that there is a cure.

I just returned from the North America Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in Orlando, FL, a yearly conference like others of its kind, consists of symposiums and seminars offering the latest and greatest diagnostic and disease management techniques. On a social level, the conference offers functions and receptions to re-connect with old classmates, while forging new networks with other veterinarians. There is a great big exhibit hall that enables us to browse new products and equipment, offering the potential to carry the best products and replace dated equipment.

All of this serves to keep us current with the best tools and knowledge to optimally treat our patients. Learning once again makes us excited to forge ahead and apply new skills and knowledge, and watch our patients reap the benefits. Seeing old classmates reminds us of a time when we endured being stressed out, broke, and tired all the time, guided solely by the notion that one day we may be able to have the career of our dreams. It is like being reborn again as newly graduated veterinarians, only far more experienced, but no less excited for and grateful for what we get to do.

My batteries have been recharged once again for yet another year. Whether it is this conference, the Las Vegas conference, or any other, I plan to keep my passion alive by attending a conference every year for as long as I practice veterinary medicine. I deserve it, my staff deserves it, and most importantly, my patients and clients deserve it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pet Resolutions

Another New Year has arrived and as with every New Year, many of us like to set resolutions for ourselves to better ourselves in one way or another, whether it be financially, health wise, st4ive to be better parents, better spouses, etc. One good resolution to consider would be optimal care of one's pets. Our pets did not choose to be adopted by us, we chose them, and as such, we should never forget that having chosen them to accompany us on their journey through life, it is our duty to care for them as best as we are able, providing the best possible shelter, food, health care, and of course, love and affection.

Unfortunately, so many pet owners forget their duty they took on when they chose to have a pet in the first place, and let one or more of their responsibilities slack, with health care being among the first to lessen with time. Many pet owners begin by feeding the cheapest, worst quality, bargain basement food they can find, then progress to failing to provide yearly stool and heartworm testing for intestinal parasites and heartworm disease, respectively. Especially dangerous, without heartworm testing, patients cannot be placed on prevention, leaving them susceptible to a very serious and potentially debilitating disease.

Many of my clients even decline all other vaccines with the exception of rabies, the one required by state law - and if not for the law, I would wager that many of these types of pet owners would not even get that!

Now, I know that we are in the midst of tough economic times, and I am not suggesting that one put one's self or one's family in financial jeopardy in order to provide the family pet with the gold standard pet food and health care. I truly sympathize with those that have to make the choice between optimal health care for their pet, and financial security for their family. However, if you can afford going the extra mile for your pet, but to do so may require going without an occasional luxury or two, by all means, do it! Your pet should be more important than that flat screen high definition television you've been wanting since you saw one at your buddy's house.

Few things disappoint me more than people opting for only bare minimum yearly requirements as per state law, yet are sporting an expensive watch, purse, or drive away in some luxury car. It is clear to me where the family pet fits on the list of priorities for people like this. My question for people of this ilk is, "If your animal is of such little importance to you, why did you adopt him in the first place??"

Still, I see so many that have very little, but what they have, they allocate toward providing their pets the best possible care, and feeding the best quality pet food. This New Year, we should all try to aspire to do our best to be a little more like them.

Happy New Year everyone, and thank you for another year of reading and participating in my blog, and Web-DVM in general!