Category Archives: Vet Tech war stories

I guess finding runaway dogs is my superpower

I guess finding runaway dogs is my superpower

As many of you might be aware, I am a dog person. I mean, I am a person who loves dogs, not a person who is part dog as well as person. Obviously. Anyway, I have always loved dogs as far back as I can remember. One time when I was about 4 years old and I snuck out of the house (frightening the crap out of my poor babysitter) so I could sneak into a neighbor’s garage to play with their puppies.*

In what is probably a classic stroke of ironic karma, nearly all of the dogs I have had in my life have managed to sneak off at least once, much like I did all those years ago. Not to point fingers, but usually it is because some younger humans leave a door or gate open when they shouldn’t. Sometimes the dogs came back when we called them, sometimes we found them while out combing the neighborhood, and sometimes they were returned to us by friendly folks who got our phone number off their name tags. Anyway, they’ve always come back to us in one way or another, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying when it happens; I always worry that this will be the time when they don’t come back at all.

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I went to Busch Gardens with a Great Dane and all you get are these awesome pictures

This is my new friend Sven:

This is a picture of Sven.

Isn’t he cute?

I got Sven as a freebie at the veterinary conference I attended in Orlando last week. The lady who gave me Sven said they were having a Facebook contest – whoever posted the picture of Sven which got the most “likes” would win $50. I didn’t win, but I stilll thought it would be fun to post all the pictures I took of Sven, starting with our day trip to Busch Gardens. I think a lot of people thought I was more than a little nuts taking pictures of a  tiny stuffed Great Dane all over the place, but that’s part of the fun.

The last time I was at Busch Gardens, I slept pretty much the whole time in my stroller and a goat tried to eat my brother’s t-shirt. So I was pretty sure this would be more fun than that.

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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Life in General, Vet Tech war stories


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Why you should not name your dog Toby

If you want to be kind to your dog and to every vet professional and/or groomer who will ever need to work with him, for the love of all things holy, do not name your dog Toby. Especially if he’s a Cocker Spaniel, Chihuahua, Maltese, or any other stereotypically difficult-to-groom dogs. Apologies if you happen to have any of these dogs. I’m not saying they’re all ill-behaved, and I’m sure yours is fabulous to work with and never tries to eat your vet’s face for dinner.
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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Vet Tech war stories


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I hugged a wolf yesterday. And you?

I have a secret identity. Most people know me as Kari, mild-mannered and sarcastic Admin Support agent & part-time pet bather. Little do they know I am also Kari, Licensed Veterinary Technician. That’s right friends, I am licensed to save lives and remove testicles *
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Can YOU tell a banana from a boa constrictor?

Today while I was driving back to work after my lunch break, I thought of a blog idea that was so funny I actually chuckled to myself. But unfortunately for you, I had forgotten it by the time I got to the office so all I can offer you is the promise that you would have laughed yourself silly.

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Quality of Life

As a vet tech, I have often been asked for advice on animal-related dilemmas ranging from how to resolve behavior problems to whether or not a medical issue is something serious to be addressed with the vet or something which will likely pass on its own. Though I love animals and am a licensed vet tech, this really does not make me an animal expert. When it comes to behavior problems I rarely know the right answer and usually refer my friends to my favorite websites or local pet trainers. I have only basic training on animal behavior and prefer to point people in the direction of knowledgable experts. I like to compare it to human terms whenever I can – would you ask a nurse for psychiatric advice? Though some people probably would do this, I think most people recognize this as an absurd idea.

The most difficult of all animal-related questions (in my opinion anyway) is how do I know if it’s the right time to euthanize my pet? To be totally honest, no one can answer this question for you – only you know the right answer for you and your pet. But I have been on both sides of this debate with pets of my own and with clients’ pets as well. I have seen owners spend thousands of dollars trying to cure their pet when it is clear that the animal will never recover. I have seen pets euthanized for reasons which make little or no sense to the outsider.

One recommendation I have received is to make a list of your dog’s favorite things to do. When your dog is no longer able to do most of the things on their list, it might be time. I have also read a suggestion to set out three jars – fill the middle jar with marbles, pennies, pebbles, or whatever. For every good day, take one out of the middle jar and put it in the left jar. For every bad day, take one from the middle jar and put it in the right jar. If the right jar has more than the left jar, then it might be time. These are mostly subjective but are simply meant to give people a way of quantifying something which is nearly impossible to measure in animals who can not tell you how they feel – quality of life. Again, the decision is up to you; you can’t expect your vet, your vet tech, or even your friends or family to make that decision for you any more than you can expect them to tell you whether or not you love your pets. Only you can know the answer, and relying on someone else to make the decision for your will only cause you to resent them later.

I myself have had to make the decision more than once, and it is never easy. For me it is a Catch-22 decision; no matter which way I go, I will always regret it. When I was in high school, my dog Kiku died of hepatitis at the age of 6. Even though the vet told me that there was only a very slim change of recovery, I couldn’t stand the idea of euthanizing her and was convinced that if I just wished hard enough and gave her enough medicine and loved her enough, I could make her better. She was so young, I reasoned, she couldn’t possibly die. I tried so hard to make her better, even waking up in the middle of the night to give her pain medicine and carry her outside so she could go to the bathroom, because she was too weak to walk that far on her own. One night my brother convinced me to let her sleep in his room so I could get some rest; she died that night. Instead of dying a peaceful death in my arms at the vet clinic, she suffered for far too long and eventually died in pain, and I wasn’t even there with her. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret that choice. Looking back now it’s clear to me that I kept her alive for my own selfish reasons – because I simply couldn’t stand to let her go. I believe that she finally passed away that night because she knew I didn’t want her to go.  Even writing about it now fills me with regret.  After that I vowed that I would never let another animal suffer for that long.

When my old Bernese Mountain Dog Xerxes started to have health problems two years ago, I thought it out very logically, but even now I worry that I might have let him go too soon. Maybe he wasn’t ready yet; did I give up too soon? He might have had another year or two of a happy life left in him. It’s impossible to know this, of course. Xerxes was always a very stoic dog. If I stepped on his toe by accident (which happened rather a lot since he was a big dog and liked to be right on my heels all the time), he would not so much as yelp. I often brought him to the college with me so fellow vet tech students could practice their big dog restraint techniques, because he was so well-behaved and pretty much let people do anything to him without complaining. “Blood draw? No problem – here’s my leg.” “Need my temperature? Sure. Is my tail in your way?” Once when he was in class with me, a fellow student fainted and fell out of her chair, landing on Xerxes who was laying on the floor next to her. He didn’t even flinch – just looked over to make sure she was okay, and went back to his nap. Because he was so stoic, it was difficult to judge whether he was in pain or not. As days went on and he had more difficulty walking or standing for more than a few minutes, I knew he would never complain. But I knew my Xerxes, and when he stopped coming to the door to greet me when I got home from work, that’s when I knew the time had come.

Of course I can’t tell you how you will know. The line may not be drawn clearly in the sand for you; and even if it is, you might still have trouble stepping across it. And you might still look back on it and wonder whether it was the right time.

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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Family Life, Life in General, Vet Tech war stories


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Sometimes Failure is the Best Option

Being a vet tech, I have a lot of friends involved in animal rescue. I respect and admire them all for the work they do to benefit the many unfortunate animals who did not get a fair shake at life the first time around. One friend recently told me about a pair of 15-year-old cats whose owner wanted to surrender them because she was moving to an apartment across the country. She had raised these two cats from kittens. My heart broke for these poor cats; to spend your life with someone and then be dumped with a stranger because your owner was not able or willing to locate an apartment which allowed cats – I can’t even imagine how traumatic that would be for those two cats. It’s difficult enough for cats to adjust to change when they are young.

But I have a secret which some of my friends in rescue will probably find shocking. The prevailing opinion in the rescue world is that adopting a pet is a commitment for life. Many people equate having a pet to having a child. I do not entirely share in this belief system. Having a pet is a serious commitment; this I do not deny. However, I believe bringing home a pet is more like getting married than having children. It is a decision which should not be taken lightly, and equally should not be thrown aside without good reason. But I feel the happiness and well-being of the animal and the family are far more important than the commitment itself.

Though not everyone in our society accepts divorce as a viable option, you cannot deny that it is something which happens often. Sometimes people get married for the wrong reasons, or discover later that their spouse is not the person they thought they were. Likewise, people sometimes rush into bringing home an animal without researching the breed or really thinking about what kind of dog would fit in with their lifestyle. Sometimes the dog you fall in love with at the shelter is a completely different dog when you get him home.

Perhaps I’m biased. I’ve never been divorced, but I admit I have failed at adoption before. Years before I went back to school for my vet tech degree, my family adopted a beautiful husky mix and named her Belldandy. I fell in love with Belldandy on my first visit to the Humane Society; I was inexperienced and immediately became emotionally attached to her, and at the time our shelter did not have any adoption counseling services to help potential families choose their companions wisely. They also didn’t have a 2-week trial adoption period like many local rescues have now. I made many mistakes with Belldandy, starting with the moment I told Ian I wanted to adopt her. If I had done my due diligence I would never have brought her home; we had her for two weeks before we made the decision to give her back to the shelter. I had to bring her there, bawling the whole way there and the whole way home.

Our house had a small yard, and we lived on a busy one-way street. It was completely the wrong environment for a dog whose ancestors were bred to pull sleds at a full run for miles a day. Though our yard had a fence, Belldandy was a spectacular escape artist; if she’d been a boy I could have named her Houdini. In the two weeks she lived with us, she ran away 6 times. Thankfully she was never hit by a car, and we always found her before the dog catcher did. This was frustrating and terrifying, but we probably could have solved this problem by installing a 6-foot privacy fence if that was the only issue (not that we could have afforded it at the time but that’s beside the point).

The fact is Belldandy was clearly miserable with us. She had terrible separation anxiety whenever I wasn’t home, chewed on everything, peed and pooped on the kids’ beds and the couch, and was clearly terrified of Ian from the first moment he came home. She cowered whenever he spoke or walked in the room, and bit him 3 times. With two small children in the house and no experience with rehabilitating dogs with behavior training, we simply didn’t have the ability to work through her problems. She was a dog who needed a job and had a lot of energy to burn; we were (and mostly still are) a family of book-loving, video-game playing, TV-watching couch potatoes. Lately we have been trying harder to make our lives healthier, but even now I would never look at our family and say “yes, we can definitely provide what a sled dog needs to be happy and healthy.” If we had kept her and tried to make it work, she might have eventually become well-behaved but she would never have had the life she truly needed and deserved. If we had kept her it would have been a very selfish decision on my part. To keep her in our home simply because I loved her so much was not the right decision for her.

A few months after I brought her back to the shelter, we saw Belldandy in the park, jogging with the woman who adopted her after we returned her to the shelter. She was clearly happy; her body language was confident and she was jogging right next to her lady. It was obvious that our sedentary family was not the right match for her; would she really have been better served if we had kept her and tried to work with her? I don’t think so.

The thing that makes me angry is that pet adoption organizations instantly dismiss us as irresponsible pet owners upon hearing that we gave up a dog after we had adopted her. A few months after Belldandy we decided to try again and looked to adopt another dog. We researched breeds and thought about what kind of dog would fit in with our family. I watched the area rescue websites for weeks and eventually met a young dog at an adoption event who I felt was a good match for us. I talked to the organizer about her that day. I called the fosters and talked with them at length about the dog’s strengths and areas which might require some work. I visited the dog in the foster’s home. However, when we turned in the adoption papers and the organizer learned we had been failed adopters I could see the mask of judgment pass over her face. She didn’t even ask about the circumstances; I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to her. Even though she had never previously mentioned anyone else asking about this dog, she told me that another family had expressed interest that day, and that adoptions were not first-come first-served, but based on what the rescue believed was the right home for the dog. Her tone made it very clear that we did not fit that description. I was tempted ask her whether she knew anyone who’d been divorced, and whether she felt that disqualified them from future marriages as well.

I am not by any means encouraging people to give up their pets (or to get divorced for that matter). I am simply trying to say that giving up your pet (like getting a divorce) is sometimes truly the best option for both pet and human. However, if the human is the only one who benefits from dissolving the relationship, that is when my heart breaks for that animal and the human gets no sympathy from me at all. For example, the two poor geriatric cats who prompted me to write this post. As someone who has been there, I know I am not really in a position to judge. But I can’t help feeling angry on behalf of those two cats who have no idea how much their lives are about to change.

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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Life in General, Vet Tech war stories


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