Excerpts from Ask the Animals,
A Vet's Eye View of Pets and the People They Love

It reminded me again of the significant place that pets assume in our lives, the degree of emotion invested in their short time with us, and the value there is in honoring the iron fetters of attachment between people and their pets. It has always amazed me when my clients, after having to put their dear pets to sleep because of intractable pain or some untreatable malady, bring me cookies, send flowers, or write a note of thanks, as if my role in their pet’s demise was worthy of praise.

It is a vital role I play in the cycle of pet ownership, different and more melancholy, but no less necessary and certainly more profound than the puppy shots I administer or the lifesaving surgeries I perform throughout the course of a pet’s life. Having always felt the weight of the chore, it is a duty that I now take even more seriously, having lost my Ollie. Unfortunately, not every ill can be salved, not every pain relieved. I find myself all too often within the fragile circle being called upon to snip its tattered strands, to gently release the fetters of companionship. It is a grievous task, to be sure. But one that I am qualified to complete not because of my professional training or experience. My qualifications arise only because I am willing to do it from within the circle rather than from without.

Ollie’s ashes inhabit a small, rectangular tin with a black cat decorating its lid. Though it has been several years since that Thanksgiving holiday, the tin resides still in my sock drawer. . . And though we’ll bury his ashes, nothing will lay to rest the memories I have of him. They’re not so crushingly painful now, after the passing of a few years. Now they are sweet and melancholy and nostalgic and center around all the good times we shared.

Why do we do it, you may ask? Why suffer so deeply for just a few fleeting moments in time with our pets? Of all the memories I nourish of Ollie, none are more treasured than when, in the morning as I lie in bed before throwing off the covers, I close my eyes and feel the precious weight and the reverberating buzz of that tuxedoed kitty on my sleepy chest. Every tear, every sadness, even the bitterness of parting, when viewed through the prism of that memory is a price too small. (From the chapter “Ollie’s Final Fight”, the story of my first cat’s passing.)

 

It was not until the patient began to move a little that realization dawned. Imperceptibly the cat began to slide toward Melissa’s side of the table. Without looking up, I tried to correct the breakdown in patient restraint.

“Melissa, the cat is sliding just a bit your way. . . .” No response. “Melissa!”

I looked up just in time to see Melissa’s glassy eyes turn up to the ceiling, her legs give way, and her body begin to sag down and back. I lunged in her direction, but was too late to catch her. She tipped backward like a felled tree. There was a loud, resonant thud, like the crescendo of a kettledrum, as the back of her head connected with the stainless steel cage behind her. Unfortunately, her grip on reality faded more quickly than her grip on the surgical patient and he flew off the table on top of her, trailing a not-quite-yet-excised testicle behind him.

I raced around the treatment table to see if I could help one or the other of the now comatose duo on the floor. Fortunately for the cat, he had landed on her ample chest, suffering neither injury nor significant contamination of the surgical site. I lifted him quickly back onto the table. Still anesthetized, he was none the worse for wear and continued to sleep peacefully. I turned my attention to Melissa. (From the chapter “Not For The Faint of Heart," the story of one observer’s queasiness while watching surgery.)

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