This is Why I Stand Out in the Rain Watching my Dog Go to the Bathroom

Kim Jones DVM Stoney Brook Veterinary Hospital Lebanon, NH

You may be familiar with the veterinarian’s role as medical provider, preacher of proper diets, and administrator of vaccines. A less well known role, but no less important, involves matters of the heart. The veterinary field uses the term “Human – Animal bond” to describe the commitment and love humans have for their pets. Pets are not working animals. They provide no sustenance or source of income. There is no monetary justification for all the things we do for them. We just love them, or we love them because our kids love them. Our bond with pets is special and unique. Each person may have a pet preference. Dog people cannot comprehend avid rat lovers who carry around their little friends in their sleeves. The dignified cat and its human sit in the lobby with quiet disdain, observing the drooling out of control Labrador, unsuccessfully trying to pull it together before entering the exam room. Horse people cannot understand why anyone would put up with a litter box in the house. Different strokes for different folks.

The pets we love give us a reason to get up and get going. They give us a reason to consider
buying a $400 vacuum, or spend a few hours a week scouring dried saliva off the walls and nose prints off the windows. They are the reason we trudge out to the barn through four feet of snow in subzero weather, to make sure their water isn’t frozen, and they have enough hay. Our pets give us perspective on our daily hardships, and simplify the meaning of life.
For a family veterinarian, this love makes my job so rewarding. People know they can always get another cat, but they want THEIR cat to live. So I remove the Christmas tree tinsel out of Sassy’s intestines and get her back to her family. People know they can buy another guinea pig, but their child is in love with THEIR guinea pig. So I examine and treat little Peanut for an upper respiratory infection and make him healthy again. There may be plenty of dogs to adopt, but people love THEIR dog. So Dozer goes to the specialist and has his knee repaired.

There are many examples of the lengths to which we’ll go, to help our pets. I’d like to share a few of those memorable stories:
A man was visiting the Upper Valley from Massachusetts and lost his dog while hiking around Boston Lot Reservoir. He ended up taking a leave of absence from work and searched for his dog for 6 weeks, until he finally found her. I was lucky enough to be the vet who saw him and his dog right after he found her. He was crying tears of joy into his cell phone, as he called his wife and announced “ I got her, I got her” over and over. Apart from being very skinny and dehydrated, the dog was okay to go home. The faith this man had, not to mention an undeniably cool boss and wife, to allow this search to go on for 6 weeks. Would I be able to do that for my dog?

Another time, an elderly woman with very little money was determinedly caring for her 60 pound diabetic dog. The dog was notoriously grumpy and difficult, with his twice daily injections and frequent trips to the vet for blood tests. Although she couldn’t really afford it, the woman never faltered in her financial sacrifice to continue treatment. She confided in me, she was absolutely certain this dog was her deceased husband, reincarnated in the dog. This woman was not crazy, she was quite rational and educated in every way. How could I question that sort of devotion?

Another family would not give up at all costs, when their 12 year old Labrador developed such a severe infection in her hind leg joint, her ankle basically came unhinged. Despite her age and terrible prognosis, they took her to Tufts Veterinary School and had major irondog surgery and metal fixators placed on her leg. She had many complications with the leg and hardware. She also had another surgery in her larynx because the cartilage was getting weak and she had a hard time breathing. FINALLY, after a year of difficulties, she healed. This dog is now over thirteen, walking around easily, wagging her tail like the bright ray of yellow Labrador sunshine she is. I am humbled by that level of faith and devotion. I can’t imagine, having thought she wouldn’t survive the ordeal. The sacrifice of time and money that family made for their dog was done from pure love.

There was a dog that was dropped off at the local humane society by a relative. The dog’s family had lost their home and couldn’t keep the dog. I got to meet the dog to try to help him with a terrible cough. He was middle aged but his heart was fine. The cough persisted and didn’t respond to the standard treatments. After two weeks, the shelter manager called the relative for more information about the dog. It turned out the dog had been in a house fire. He had been the one to wake up the family in the night and warn them. They were able to escape before their house burned down. Once I treated him properly for smoke inhalation, his cough went away. His heroic story was added to his personality profile and he was adopted within a week!

There are so many lessons we can learn from our pets. Some are inspiring, humorous, or painful, but they deepen our compassion and open our minds to new perspectives. Animal lovers are the most genuine people I know and I consider myself lucky to be able to share in the Human – Animal bond every day.