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The First Scars: Early Wounds Take Longer to Heal

By Immydog
When I first decided that I wanted to become a veterinarian, wait...let me rephrase that...  When I first decided that I might be capable of becoming a veterinarian, I realized that I needed to gain some experience at a veterinary clinic.  I had been successful in earning very good grades in my first full year of college classes.  Prior to that year, I was not certain that I had "what it took" to get the grades to make my way into veterinary school, but I had proven myself wrong at least for the first year.  So I now needed summer experience to help me decide if a veterinary career was the route for me. 
I went to several local veterinary clinics to inquire and leave a resume.  I ended up with three jobs that summer.  I worked full time Monday through Friday at a busy five doctor practice.  On Saturday mornings I worked at a smaller, two doctor practice, and Sundays were reserved for working at the pet store at which I had been employed throughout high school.
The job during the week was the same veterinary clinic my family had taken all of their pets to since I was a little girl, so I was very excited about this new opportunity.  This would be the veterinary clinic I worked at five days a week for the entire summer.  It was a busy clinic with a brand new modern building with five doctors, a large staff, fancy equipment, and a large clientele.  It was not the same clinic (physically or otherwise) as the one I recall visiting as a child.  The doctor and owner I remember was now retired, although he had agreed to come to the new clinic earlier that year when our dog, Sheba, was ill and he performed her euthanasia. He had been caring for her since she was a puppy, and she was 12 years old when we lost her.  The original building that I remember was now old and vacant.  The only thing about this clinic that remained the same since my youth was its name.  The clinic had been named after the retired doctor who originally opened it.
During the first few weeks of the job, I had walked to the back room to post a few notes for the doctors on the bulletin board.  I saw a small tan dog, with a brown nose sitting by the door.  His or her leash was hooked to the door knob.  I bent over and patted the dog.  He was a cute and friendly little thing.  His tail was wagging and he kissed my hands.  He was grateful for the attention that I was giving him.  I asked one of the veterinary technicians about him.
"The ACO (animal control officer) found it by the highway, hit by a car.  It has a broken leg."  The dog gave no indication of the pain he or she was suffering.  I could see now that he was holding his back leg close to his body.  Otherwise, he was happy, alert, and playful.  I told the little dog I was sorry about his leg, certain that he was in good hands, then went back to work.  He watched me walk away, tail wagging.  I shook my head and smiled at his animated gestures as I walked away.
I searched through almost 100 pages on www.petfinder.com to find a dog that resembles the image of this little dog that still lives in my memory.  I found two...and they are both available for adoption in shelters.
The First Scars: Early Wounds Take Longer to HealHopeAvailable for adoption in Nebraska
The First Scars: Early Wounds Take Longer to HealMimiAvailable for adoption in Iowa
My memory of the little dog is fuzzy in some areas, but I recall he or she resembled a miniature version of a Yellow Labrador Retriever, although I cannot recall the gender of the dog.  I am certain the dog was wearing a collar, with no identification tags, but I can no longer recall the color or style of the collar.  The thing I remember most about this little dog is its little brown nose.  The nose was not black like the licorice gumdrop nose found on most dogs, but brown like Mimi and Hope's noses above, and like my Dove's nose.  It was brown like a little upside down Hershey's kiss.
The First Scars: Early Wounds Take Longer to HealMy Dove
Later that afternoon, I came back to post more notes, and the little dog was gone.  When I inquired as to where he was, the response was, "They put it to sleep."
I was not a doctor, but I could not help but silently wonder why they could not put a splint on the little dog.  What if someone was looking for him?  He was wearing a collar.  He was so friendly and absolutely adorable that someone must be missing him.  For weeks, each time I walked through that doorway, I gazed sullenly at the empty door knob and my heart would break. 
If I wanted to become a veterinarian, I had to get used to the idea that animals get put to sleep, even healthy ones.  Didn't I?  I just did not expect it to happen to such a cute and friendly little dog.  I was naive.   I went home that night, knowing more about the job for which I was striving, more than I wanted to know.
It is only as I write this story down that I realize something.  I generally do not consider brown nose dogs as cute as black dogs.  I can almost say that I had a mild aversion to them.  I preferred the black noses.  Perhaps, all these years, I have been associating those brown noses with that moment, that loss, that pain.  Now that I have my own brown nosed dog, Dove, my opinion has only recently changed forever.
The next work day went on like any other at that busy clinic.   I stayed busy answering the phones, pulling charts, posting messages on the bulletin board, walking by that damn door knob.  Then the phone rang, and I, the new employee, was the one unfortunate enough to answer it.
On the other end of the line was a woman who was obviously crying.
"I was told my dog was possibly brought there.  She may have been hit by a car."
My heart sank.
"That is possible.  The ACO brought a small dog in yesterday from the highway." I responded.
"Can you tell me what she looked like?" she asked.
I confirmed for the woman the sex, and the color of the dog's collar (the details of each escape me now, twenty plus years later).  I continued, "She was a small dog, tannish in color, with a little brown nose."  Now I was starting to get emotional.
"Is she still there?" was said with a glimmer of hope.
"No, I'm so sorry.  She was put to sleep." The lump in my throat was almost unbearable.
"If I bring a photo in, can you identify her?" she sobbed still hopeful that it was not her dog.
"Yes, my name is Lisa.  Just ask for me when you come in."  I hung the phone up with tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, and what felt like a truck on my chest.  I did not want to look at that dog's photo.  I wanted to just walk out the door and go home. 
That afternoon, the photo was handed to me.  The image on the photo was that of the little brown nosed dog.   The woman's worst nightmare was confirmed...by me.
A few weeks later, there was a litter of tiny kittens in an end cage in the kennel area.   I played with them during my break.  Kittens can just be so funny.  They are so animated and cartoon-like.  Later that day, they were gone.  I asked about them.  "They were all sickly with upper respiratory so they put them down."
I finished the job that summer, but I rarely visited the back rooms.  I never worked there again for many reasons that were "more important" than these two instances.  One of the doctors was very demeaning to the staff.  The clients just loved him.  I even watched one client give him a large cash tip and I laughed quietly over the irony.  I promised myself that if I was ever fortunate enough to be "The Boss" that I would never treat my staff the way he did, and I think I have kept that promise.  There was little staff camaraderie in this clinic.  Working in reception gave me little experience about what a veterinarian truly does for a living.  Being in the reception area only meant not seeing surgery, not administering medications, not viewing x-rays.  The educational benefits of this job that were meant to help me decide what I wanted to do with my future seemed limited...and yet, looking back now, they were limitless when you consider how this experience may ultimately have shaped my life.  Those two moments and others were and are still very much a part of me. 
My Saturday job at the small two doctor practice, provided me with my Mentors.  The tiny clinic without the fancy equipment and huge clientele introduced me to the Veterinarian and the Veterinary Technician that would shape my future work, cement my beliefs and fortify my ethics.  I stayed with them each summer for seven years until I graduated veterinary school. 
I sometimes wonder, "If that large busy clinic had been my only experience that summer, would I still have chosen to become a veterinarian."  I cannot answer that, but I am so grateful that it was not my only experience.
Thank you Mary Ann and Nancy.  I may not be the best veterinarian in the world, but I am still trying and still learning to be the best animal advocate I can be, thanks to you.
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