The man who let me in was a vet tech who wasn’t expecting me, but he was friendly all the same and started to show me around the place. My first task was to clean the enclosures and change the litter, food and water for the cats, both boarding and residents. There was the group up for adoption in the reception area, the crotchety crew in the cat room, residents in a couple offices and the group in the ill-named dog ward, which at this time contained no dogs.
Things kind of sped up from there. More staff kept arriving, and every one was nonplussed by the power outage. I was to receive several apologies over the day with the explanation that it wasn’t a “normal” day to start on, what with no x-rays, analysis machines, computers, phones or even lights working in the exam rooms. It probably turned out to my advantage, however. No phones meant fewer clients on a usually chaotic Saturday, and my acclimation was probably easier for this.
The majority of my time was spent cleaning: litter trays, dishes, surfaces and floors. I did more sweeping and mopping alone than I’ve probably done in the last year at home. If nothing else, it got me over the phobia I’d incurred when I slipped a disc while mopping. The physical labour was actually refreshing, and felt like I was doing something useful for a change, rather than sitting staring at a computer all day.
Patients came in and out. One woman brought in her elderly dog who had been seizing, and clearly on the brink of death. She came in shortly after I did at 9:00 AM and sat with him in an exam room all morning. She was still there with him when I left at 6:30 at night, and he was still motionless. She wasn’t ready to put him down, yet, and the staff wasn’t pushing her.
There were an unusual number of euthanasias for some reason. I counted at least four, despite the old dog lingering, and there may have been more. The clinic director apologized to me for it at the end of the day, saying it was certainly not normal, but seemed to happen sometimes during drastic weather changes. I was surprisingly all right with it. I’d had a fear of being overly emotional, but I was mainly just focused and busy. Interestingly enough, I found the same thing that I had when I’d volunteered at a cat shelter in the past: it was the largest male vet tech who was the most outwardly emotional. Several times during the day, young women half his size were bustling about taking care of business, as he paused to mourn over a cat he didn’t want to die. It didn’t stop him from doing what he needed to do, but it was arresting seeing a beefy man frozen on the verge of tears, while ballerina-esque ladies in lavender scrubs brushed by with just a glance.
I only got a few hands-on moments with patients, besides petting some of the boarding and resident cats when I had a minute. At one point I gently held a tiny cat, skin and bones, barely breathing, with one lost eye and the other closed. I was asked to touch her and make sure she didn’t fall off the table while they prepared an injection. She didn’t move, and I began to wonder if she would die right there while waiting. I gently stroked her and tried to send her loving Reiki. The large male vet tech entered and was upset – she was another one of his favourites, who had apparently been brought in after being hit by a car in the past. This time she was in to be euthanized. I thought they might do it right then, but apparently they were giving her something else. He took over holding her, and as another vet tech tenderly tried to insert the needle into her small, fragile vein, the kitty’s back legs came to life. Eyes still tightly closed, her body resisted, kicking and squirming, making the insertion difficult. I wished she could just die in peace. The insertion done, they whisked her up and into another room.
For a moment, I wasn’t sure what to feel. But then I realized, I felt that she was ready to go, and it was a good thing that she’d be beyond pain soon. From then on, seeing the euthanized animals gave me less pause. Besides, I had tasks to do.
Due to the lack of lights, many procedures were done in odd areas. An elderly dog, blind and mostly deaf, was examined in an upstairs, unfinished room with a skylight. Slowly, her person lead her down the stairs, explaining that the dog was still fine on the stairs at home, and they didn’t want her to get used to being carried. “You’re amazing, Martha!” the head vet encouraged, as, wheezing and shaking, the dog reached the bottom. It took several minutes for them to coax her down the hallway. She kept expecting another stair step.
A tiny Yorkie puppy was examined at the communal lunch table, where it was bright. The vet would look from the puppy’s tiny face up at me and whisper “she’s so cute," while I munched my cookie. An old German Shepard was laid down in the middle of the floor in the back room, while his person, three vet techs and no less than two vets at a time observed him. He had recently had a tumour removed, and they were checking the wound. While they were there, his person mentioned he had a constant erection. Everyone gathered around to see what the cause was, and whether his glans could be retracted. He maintained the sweetest look of puzzled surrender throughout, a big, former athlete with gray fur on his muzzle. When the problem was fixed, there was the natural joking as a younger vet complimented the head vet, saying she couldn’t have done it. “If we chose by sexual preference, you’d be much more experienced with the area than I am,” was the rejoinder.
Another animal went through some genital changes, the first surgery I’ve ever seen in person. A simple neutering procedure, this one went awry as the aptly named “Snip-Snip” went ballistic on the table. Unable to use the mask, the techs placed him, hissing and twisting, into a plastic box, then inserted a tube to administer the anaesthesia. There was a sudden moment of concern when he began a repetitive, spastic moaning while going under, accompanied by a leg twitch. They hauled him out, and tried the mask again. This time he was fine within a moment, fully out, tongue protruding pinkly.
The neutering was fast and surprisingly a bit violent. (Gentlemen, cover your ears.) At first, it went quickly. The vet made a small incision in the scrotal sac with a scalpel head, and with a quick squeeze, the testicle plopped out with an almost audible pop. As a second vet observed, however, it seemed that the cat’s unusually large balls and penis, along with some tough ventricles, were posing a problem, and I found myself blanching a little as the vet pulled and pulled to get things disconnected. By this time, my view was partly obscured, and I was also looking at the cats in the cages through the window, wondering what they could see of all this. The yanking apparently finished, the operating vet began to tie the tubes in a knot, prompting a conversation with the other vet about how this technique worked better for her than sutures, and neither of them could get the method taught in school to work right. Snip Snip’s parts were shoved back in, his claws clipped, and within a few minutes he was partially awake and stumbling around angrily in his cage. By the time his person came to get him a couple hours later, he was back in fighting form, and rightly pissed off. The largest vet tech had to close the area door and herd him into his carrier with a towel. You go, Snip Snip. Stay bad.
Near the end of the day the power came back on, and I could stop hand-washing dishes and start doing laundry. The towel and blanket pile could have rivaled a small hotel. By then, it was also time for the evening feeding. So, now that I’d been shown how to read their feeding charts, I was able to take care of most of them, including special diets and medicines that went into food, although the pills and shots would be left to the techs. It actually took close to two hours to take care of everybody, in-between other tasks. After that, there was one more mopping, one more load of laundry, and I was ready to head home. As I bought some cans of cat food at the counter, the young receptionist gave me a discount, and then said “oh, you’ll get a bigger discount when you work here. The director said you’ll be starting, soon, right?” I hope this meant I made a good impression.
During the slow rush-hour bus ride home, I took stock. My feet were very sore, I was tired, and extremely hungry (I hadn’t known there was no lunch break, and that we all were to graze when we had a few minutes). However, although I knew I’d be tired and a bit sore the next day, it was nothing as bad as I’d feared, used to sitting my fat ass in an office chair for hours on end. And yes, I felt a little like a peon, having done mostly cleaning all day, and only handling animals intermittently. But I felt good, as well. I had helped animals and the people who treat and love them, if even in a small capacity, and I had started to learn. It was enervating, exhausting, and felt like a day well spent.
Day two will come in two weeks, after I’m back from my vacation, and right around the time I start training my replacement at my current job. I’m looking forward to experiencing a “normal” Saturday with rounds, x-rays and full treatments. I’m interested to talk to the resident massage therapist about the hydrotherapy treatments, the vet who’s studying acupuncture to whom I outed myself as a former animal communicator, the vet who had to see a patient in the middle of our conversation about her vet training on a Caribbean island. I want to learn more from the big, sensitive tech, the efficient one who’s planning on becoming a vet, and the kind one who, after ten years, is not sure what she wants to do next. Most of all, I’m looking forward to learning more about myself, and to helping the animals. This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.