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It has been quite some time that I’ve posted. In fact, all of 4th and 5th year have been complete silence on this site. To make a long story short, shit got h a r d. That, and the fact that the school put into place a restriction of sharing photos of animals taken at the hospital made things a lot less fun to post.
For 10 1/2 years, my only concern was to get into vet school. Then it became all about making it through vet school, one grueling semester at a time. The latest goal was to take my final exams and graduate. Now that all the scores are in and all the paperwork properly filed, it is finally official.
Problem is, I never anticipated coming to the end of the line. The end of the line meant no more safety net. No more safety of the teaching hospital where my every decision and action were double and triple checked. From now on, everything I do, I carry the sole responsibility. And that is the most terrifying realization.
With the end of finals came one week of flu-like symptoms brought on by the release of serious stress. But there was no time to lose as the university had just unleashed 95 brand-new unemployed grads with a big bag of student loans. I paper bombed all of Wellington and the surrounding area with my CV, nervously awaiting a call, email, anything.
Three interviews later, I got the call. No sleep was had for the days leading up to my first day. I’ve now been with them for less than a week and things are looking optimistic.
And now we’re all caught up.
I’m going to try and continue blogging about how the next few months go as it will surely be entertaining for you to see me flailing my way towards competency – not so much for me. Keep in mind I need to maintain confidentiality and respect for both the clinic and the clients so…..we’ll see how this goes.
For you doubters out there. We now have photographic proof. Water damaged proof (thanks Wellington postal service for leaving this sitting in the rain for me), but still proof. (The remote control protects sensitive info and the terrible shadow is because I’m running late for work and you’ll take what I give you, dammit!)
I didn’t meet Mama Dog (indoor version). It was more of a realization that the rumpled fur rug under the dining table was indeed a dog.
The story behind Mama Dog is still a mystery to me. All I know is that she’s an old lady with achey joints and zero tolerance for nonsense (with her idea of nonsense being my mere existence). She lived in the house with us but you’d be hard pressed to find her any place else except sound asleep under the dining room table. And she’s no tiny dog so her mass really spread out, blocking all of us from comfortably setting our feet down on the floor. Mama Dog don’t care. You want to put your feet down? Too bad for you. Go sit somewhere else.
And the gas! Sweet Jesus in a manger did she ever have fits of gas. And was so very evil and deliberate in the way she’d handle it. We’d all be sitting around the table; each person individually immersed in their iPhones, iPod and whatnot. But slowly a malevolent odor would begin to seep through the dining room. It was so insidious, one by one, we’d each notice the scent and try to be nonchalant about seeking the source of the stench. Ever so quietly everyone checked their feet and scrubs to make sure it wasn’t them emitting the noxious cloud. Yet careful to not let anyone know you were aware of the scent. Because no matter how old you are or what part of the world you’re in, he who hath smelt it, be thine own who dealt it. And so it is written.
While her joints and polite social graces may be failing her, her ears are still crystal clear. Without saying a word or making any noise at all, you could start walking towards the beach and she would come running. No matter how much she didn’t care for you, she’d put that all aside for a little beach time.
On my last day working at the clinic, I walked across the street to have one last lagoon decompress. To my delight, Mama Dog came sauntering up, sat down and leaned on me. We sat there in the sand for a bit just soaking in the sun and watching the waves. Here was this tough old lady that doesn’t share affection willingly and she sought me out for a bit of a cuddle. Of course I had forgotten my camera.
Without so much as a “later, gator”, Mama abruptly got up and headed home. Back at the house she returned to her usual way of ignoring me. Still, deep down inside, I think she may have, sorta kinda liked me just the tiniest bit.
By textbook definition, they were the perfect litter of pups – plump, shiny, and when not looking for a feed or actually feeding, they were milk drunk; dead to the world.
These little guys were already at the clinic by the time I got there. When I met them, they were a fairly easy bunch to wrangle. They were still in the larval stage of being a pup so they couldn’t get into too much trouble. There was the occasional incident of a pup getting tangled in the bedding and somehow getting stuck upside-down. He would let out a scream that would send the entire clinic running to find the source of the emergency. We’d find him, put him upright – emergency over.
I discovered the pups on my first day there but in a roundabout sort of way. I opened the door to my room just in time to see a grown dog crawling through my bedroom window. We both startled each other. I came out to the living room asking what the story was with the dog in my room. Turns out, her name was Mama Dog (the outside version, we have two). When you have eight pups demanding your attention, you do what you can to have some alone time. Her crawling though my window was just that. And I ruined it.
Mama Dog 2.0 is gorgeous. She has the coloring of a Rotweiller but the body of a dauchound. A really, really tall dachound. She’s a weinie dog on stilts. And her crowning glory is her absurdly long tail that is constantly standing at attention, waving in the breeze.
She had become an expert at being near her puppies at all times, but remaining just far enough away from them to keep from going crazy. The pups stayed in their open-air shelter, cuddled up in a fluffy blanket lying together in a giant puppy puddle. We’d tend to the pups to make sure they were clean and doing well while she watched on with eagle-eyes, ready to step in should she sense the pups needed her. Her most ingenious way of remaining near her pups while getting some sleep was to dig a hole underneath the pup shelter. Seeing her paws barely visible underneath the shelter was her “Do Not Disturb” sign.
Around my second week at the clinic, the pups developed their motor skills quite literally overnight.
They went from this…
And from that day on, they were on the move non-stop.
Amanda was quick on her feet and discovered a make-shift playpen to place the pups in during the day. It gave them enough space to romp and explore in the grass but within the safe confines of where we could keep an eye on them.
Not one minute of the day went by where they were not doted on. They were irresistible – plump, curious, and with the softest velvety ears. Word spread quickly though the island and we had a steady stream of people making a visit to the clinic just to have a few minutes of puppy time. Even though they were weeks away from being ready for adoption, the public was chomping at the bit to adopt them.
Sure the puppies were adorable and silly and as soft as ducklings, but Mama Dog was, in my opinion, the bees knees. You can keep your pure breeds and floofy pugadoodles. I like my dogs distinctive, comically odd and just the right amount of weird.
So if you happen to stop by the clinic and find yourself staring at a dog wondering what is that? Just know, that’s Mama Dog 2.0.
I have a foul mouth and a penchant for typos. One post can singlehandedly have my mom praying to the Guadalupe, make my dad’s eyes bleed and suck all the life from my writer hubby. It’s a gift. But I still can’t get over my reaction to the proper reference to a female dog.
Now into my 4th year of vet school, the term bitch being casually tossed around in lectures, on powerpoint slides and textbooks still jars me. It’s not a word I’m accustomed to venerable professionals using. Which is why my head about damn near exploded while at EHF.
Sitting at the table eating breakfast and someone yells across the room, “Hey guys, stop scheduling bitch spays for Wednesday.” It throws you, ya know? Get three veterinarians in one spot and they will have you reaching for your nerve pills. “Bitch spays are the scariest surgeries you’ll ever do”. “Oh, I know. Bitch spays take so much more time”. And the ever so unexpected, “These big bitch vessels are so tricky.” All said over morning cereal.
But perhaps the most wonderful one, “Is she a big bitch?” Because if any woman happened to accidentally walk by our open windows when that innocent question was asked, I’m sure she must have wondered what she did to make that kind of an impression.
We’ve got a situation down at EHF. Their two washing machines have died and that spells T R O U B L E. It’s the kind of emergency right up there with all your toilets backing up when you have family staying with you. Or when the car dies in the middle of the freeway right after you’ve emptied your bank account to pay your credit card that you maxed out to pay for that after-hours plumbing emergency.
“Oh boo hoo, a couple of washing machines broke down”, you say. I say, “oh guuuuurl, let me tell you how big a deal these two machines are.”
This clinic does not squander donations. Everything that comes in goes towards the basics needed to keep the hospital running such as medications, surgical supplies, and oxygen. OXYGEN. You can’t anesthetize animals that need lifesaving operations without oxygen. And bottled oxygen does not come cheap.
This is the best example of how frugal the clinic is.
That repurposed bucket that used to be filled with laundry detergent is now filled with all the sand we need for the hospital litterboxes. Free, biodegradable and works like a charm.
While I was there, both washing machines ran from sun-up to sun-down. The first and most basic rule of making sick animals healthy is to not let them lie in their own filth. When the hospital is hopping, you are constantly changing bedding. If you’re the one tackling the hospital laundry for the day, your name might as well be Sysiphus. I don’t know how, but 2 towels go in the hamper, 14 come out. It’s useless to try and figure out how this happens, it just does.
Another cost saving method utilized by the hospital is reusing surgical drapes. You know those blue paper drapes the doctor covers you in when you get poked and prodded? Yeah, no. The clinic can’t afford to use disposable drapes so cloth ones are washed, sterilized and reused. So no washing machine, no surgical drapes. And if they did pay for disposable surgical drapes, then there goes the money for oxygen. Do you see the conundrum here?
But wait, there’s more. Not only can the hospital not clean their limited supply of bedding and surgical drapes, volunteers can’t wash their own clothes. When the poop isn’t on the bedding, its on your clothes. And if you don’t wash your clothes, that’s just nine kinds of nasty.
If you can, please take a minute to donate $5 to the Esther Honey Foundation at:
If you do, the clinic critters may do the following as a token of appreciation:
And best of all:
And oh boy, did we have something good. Let me explain.
There are clinics that have fancy-pants underwater treadmills allowing hydrotherapy. That’s expensive talk for your pet being put in a harness that supports them while they’re immersed chest deep in a stainless steel tub that contains a treadmill at the bottom. This therapy is beneficial to animals needing low-impact exercise to build strength and aid in the recuperative process.
Needless to say, EHF does not have this. HOWEVER, I do believe the volunteers devised a system that is quite possibly even better. We had many dogs that suffered from ailments leaving them unable to walk unassisted. Everyday at 5pm when we’d close for the day, the volunteers would dash through the house, toss on their bikinis and take these dogs across the street to the lagoon. The water is warm like bathwater and the waves are gentle enough to be soothing. The volunteers took turns supporting the dog while he got to enjoy impact-free exercise; lightly swimming and being the center of attention. This therapy provided much needed playtime, exercise and attention for these dogs. And it was equally beneficial to the volunteers. After a full day on your feet being bitten by mosquitos, a dip in the lagoon does wonders to make it all better. Add a dog that is thoroughly enjoying his swim time, and that just can’t be beat.
Be honest, if you could opt to have your ailing pet do hydrotherapy, which would you prefer? Being strapped to a stainless steel tub on a treadmill or dog paddling in a lagoon while being lavished with undivided attention? I’m amazed clinics in LA haven’t already thought of this and charge out the nose for it. They’d make a killing.
By now you all have a sense of the chicken problem we were having. It wasn’t clinic specific; all of Rarotonga is swarming with these these free-roaming hobos. For us, the roosters were keeping us up with their crowing, their sheer numbers were adding to the amount of cleaning we had to do during the day and we had seen just about all the chicken sex we could handle.
Oh yeah, I said it.
Chickens were getting down and dirty right there for all the patients to see. Now, I’m a smart girl and I know that chickens need to mate in order to make cute little baby chickens, but I never really envisioned how they go about procreating. It’s something you know, but don’t really want to know, you know? So when I was standing there in the kitchen washing dishes and looking out towards the backyard, the sight of a rooster mounting a chicken had me clutching my pearls. Scandalous. Since there were chickens everywhere, there was also chicken sex. Everywhere. Out in the backyard giving a dog his meds? Chickens having sex 10 feet away. Scooping up dog poop? Chicken sex. Assisting the vet during an amputation? Chicken sex (you couldn’t see it but you could hear it through the window).
Most of us just talked a big game about how we’d fix this problem but one of the volunteers, Sacha, went that extra step further and actually got the ball rolling. I didn’t witness it personally, but I like to think she performed a secret, ancient blood curse against the roosters and emerged transformed, ready to exact some justice.
One day the clinic car pulled up in the front yard and Sacha emerged with an honest-to-god chicken net. Shit was on. A plan was devised – we’d aim for the roosters and relocate them to an abandoned, unpopulated area on the other side of the island.
The backyard became a reenactment of the War of Northern Aggression minus all the Jesus. I know this because I’m a product of the unfailing American education system, more specifically that of Collierville, Tennessee, smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. And being American I know that 2+3 = 7, Spain is located in South America and the colors of red, white and blue don’t run but if they do, they make a fabulous shade of lavender. Damn that liberal media and their subversive gay agenda! (Right now my parents must be so happy they spent all that money to send me to Catholic school. They’re also rethinking their decision not to sell me to the circus like they threatened).
The element of surprise was our greatest asset. The chickens had never before been introduced to a chicken net so Sach was able to snag a few on the first day. Drunk with victory, we all had a go with the net and there was rarely a moment where you did not see a volunteer running through the yard waving that giant net and laughing maniacally. It was also a sight so ridiculous the rest of us were paralyzed with laughter to the point of almost wetting ourselves.
But the chickens soon wised up. Two days later, we were still running around with the net, only the chickens knew to scamper into the safety of the bushes. The battle had shifted and we were now on the losing side.
Another volunteer, Ashley, decided to give the cat traps a go. We all stood around telling her how that was never going to work. She caught two within 5 minutes. And so we enjoyed another few days of gaining ground against the enemy.
We had finally caught enough to reduce the chicken numbers to a manageable level. If we had caught them all, it would have created a vacuum which would have quickly been replaced by a neighboring chicken colony. With the numbers reduced, we slept in uninterrupted silence for the first time in a week.
But chickens being chickens means they quickly regrouped. Whether the relocated roosters hitchhiked their way back to the clinic or they sent out a memo to gather the troops, we will never know. Soon we were right back where we started, only these chickens were smarter. They were trap savvy and knew exactly what that net meant. We had lost control of them. Their numbers grew. The battle was lost. The chickens were having sex in the backyard again.
And so we were a troop of volunteers, bonded by what we’ve experienced. By all that we’ve seen. Two weeks later, when a new volunteer entered the house, she commented about the number of chickens and how easy it would be for us to catch them. Like war weary veterans, we could only look at her with dead eyes. We’ve been there, man. The chickens, they just can’t be defeated.
Even though you’re out there on an island in the South Pacific, you’re not on vacation. We’ve been given free access to a house and everything we need to make ourselves at home. If you want a spotless house, pick up a sponge and start cleaning. If you want to spruce up the consult room, have right at it. That goes for every aspect of your stay there. However, having said that, some things are so much easier said than done.
When I first walked in the door, my first thought was “I’m picking up a broom and I’m gonna make this place sparkle!” I may or may not have even said that using jazz hands, I’m not sure (I get so excited about a cleaning project, just ask the hubby). I even woke up one morning and announced it to Christina, our veteran volunteer who was entering her 6th month in the house. She wished me well in my endeavor but her eyes said something else. They were bemused. I couldn’t quite figure out what that meant. Oh, but I was about to.
I began the morning with the usual feed and clean dance. I was not assigned to surgery or community outreach that day which means I was a floater. Floaters are in charge of managing client consultations and making sure the patients have everything they need. That leaves you with pockets of free time where you can tackle a project you have a special interest in. And on that day, my project was the kitchen.
I picked up a sponge and washed the dishes. Easy peasy. Then I whipped out the broom. But wait, a car just pulled up. I put the broom away and tended to the client. I come back to the sight of a new dishes in the sink- a few of the volunteers in surgery had 5 minutes to catch a quick snack before they had to run back out and straight into a new surgery. No biggie, I’ve had to leave dishes in the sink before and someone washed them for me. Time to pay the favor back. Again, I tried sweeping and this time I got a bit further, but now another car pulls up and they’ve got an emergency. I go out to help. The vet sends me for supplies and I traipse back and forth from the supply closet to surgery (which takes you through the kitchen). Others run out to lend a hand (through the kitchen). The emergency keeps us occupied for quite a bit and now it’s time for afternoon feed and clean. The broom is long forgotten and I’m neck deep in the late afternoon rush. More people come through the kitchen for a quick snack or glass of water and dash back out to help with the patients. Now it’s dinnertime and all 9 of us are exhausted and hungry. Nine people make dinner. Nine people wash their dishes. It’s now the end of a long day and my body desperately wants lay face down on the bed and not move for three or four days.
Operation Kitchen Sparkle was a bust. And the bemused look in Christine’s eye suddenly made sense. She had launched her own cleaning projects in the past. Sometimes they get accomplished, sometimes they don’t. And even if they did, the house is a constant hive of activity where the patients are the priority, not the dishes.
About one week later a new volunteer walked into the dining room and declared “Why haven’t we done anything about those chickens? We’re smart girls, they can’t be that hard to catch.” She got that same bemused look, only this time from me.
Next week – Operation GET BACK HERE YOU GODDAMN CHICKEN!!
Yam started out as a controversial presence in the clinic/house. We responded to a house call of a very young kitten that needed care until it could be rehomed. When we showed up, the homewoners presented us with this tiny, screaming ball of orange fluff. It was immediately evident that the kitten’s eyes had just opened and this little thing was hongray.
The controversy surrounding the acceptance of this kitten was that the chances of survival for a kitten this young away from its mother were abysmal, no matter how skilled the supportive care. But as the mother could not be found, we accepted the kitten and the inevitable fate that it would probably die in 2 or 3 days.
So we fed him.
And fed him
and fed him
and fed him some more.
We had to come up with a rotation schedule for feedings at midnight, 3am and 6am. If the dogs barking and chickens screaming weren’t already enough, now we had alarm clocks going off, people fumbling around in the dark, and a kitten crying. Boy did that kitten cry. He cried because you woke him up. He cried because you were trying to feed him. He cried because you stopped feeding him. He cried, he cried, he cried.
But soon his eyes went from open and unseeing
To looking directly into yours
And he went from commando crawling
To toddling about
He went from not pooping
To non-stop pooping
He went from only child
To annoying younger sibling
He went from this helpless, hopeless thing
To our beautiful little sweet potato, Yam