The Good the Bad and The Ugly World of Veterinary Care
Most people don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes at an animal hospital or, possibly, never even give it any thought. At the age of thirty I found myself switching careers (sort of a misnomer; you actually have to HAVE a career to switch) and saw an ad for kennel help at an animal hospital. It immediately intrigued me, having done restaurant work, retail, hard labor, sales etc. while trying to support myself as a struggling musician/writer. It sounded like something new, and I could work with animals. What wasn’t to like? I called and arranged a time to go in and fill out an application. After meeting them I almost didn’t get hired because the place was very conservative and I showed up with long hair and earrings. The only reason they did eventually hire me was because they went through personnel like toilet paper. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. While I was waiting for them to call I was working as a shrimp peeler and oyster shucker at a seafood restaurant. I was the only white guy and so was left out of all conversations (I didn’t speak Spanish). Not only that I smelled like the bottom of the fucking ocean and nothing could kill that stench. The other workers smiled at me, the pity evident in their eyes. The lone white guy and I had the worst job in the house!
The animal hospital started me in the kennel where I walked, bathed and fed the boarding dogs as well as cleaned their cages. Eventually I was also responsible for their medications. After I finished in the kennel I would go in the hospital to see if they needed any help. Within a month of being there they were teaching me how to draw blood, give vaccines, clip nails, express anal glands, clean teeth, assist clients and their pets in the patient visit rooms, answer the phone, dispense medication etc. etc. etc…in other words all the duties of a veterinary technician (or assistant, depending on what state you are working in). This job was in Texas in 1999 so I was considered a technician. The job has undergone many changes since its humble beginnings back in the day when aspiring veterinarians handled such duties (read ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and you’ll know what I’m talking about). So, as the position grew, programs began sprouting up at community colleges that were similar to dental assistant programs; one to two year courses that taught you the rudiments of being a veterinary technician and, at the courses end, if you passed the final exam, you were considered ‘registered’ or ‘certified’. These days the classes are full of young girls fresh out of high school who don’t have the gumption to become a veterinarian (eight years of school!) but want to help however they can. What was once a male dominated occupation was taken over by these young ladies in the 2000’s. Go into any veterinarian office and count how many men you see. That one old guy? Yeah, he owns the place. And a lot of clinics now specify that they want registered or certified technicians. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing the job for over ten years, trained into it, they prefer their employees to have taken all the math and science requirements (even though they will have little to no use for them). Presently I am the lone old man in a clinic in Encinitas, California where I work with veterinarians who are younger than me. I am ten years older than the owner, working with women in their twenties who love telling me what to do and make jokes about me behind my back. Since they went to school they consider me the charity case, the pitiable old codger they have politely hired so that they can’t be considered guilty of age or sexual discrimination. But anyway…
When I began in the field I knew nothing about any of that, all I knew was what I saw; people walked in the door and if they could handle the sight of blood and weren’t afraid of getting bit than the doctors would teach them the skills they would need to assist them properly. I lasted at that animal hospital eight months, which was about six months longer than I thought I would. Why? What I saw at that place was nothing short of horrendous; the owner and his associate were breaking laws left and right (again, I didn’t know this, I was, after all, new to the business). These assholes would euthanize any animal for little to no reason as long as the client had cash. They put down a perfectly healthy two year old German Sheppard simply because the owner refused to pay his boarding bill. Seriously. I tried to find him a home and, after a long search, thought I found a good family. They were supposed to pick him up on one of my days off. I came in after the weekend, refreshed, happy that the dog was no longer there; he’d been in that cage since the first day I was shown the kennel, about a month. Whistling a cheery tune I went about my day, but it was near the end of my shift that I found out the truth. At every clinic there is a freezer for one purpose only: body storage. We had a euthanasia late in the day and I was the one to bag it, tag it and put the carcass in the freezer and what did I see on top when I opened it up? Yes, the German Sheppard. He’d found a home all right, but not one in this world. When I asked the doctors why they did it they said the people never showed up to pick him up and so it was the last thing they did on Saturday. I cried all the way home and then cried about it off and on for the rest of the week. Over the course of time I worked there I witnessed many unnecessary euthanizations, in fact was the reason I eventually quit.
The kicker to all of this, the thing I had no idea was illegal regarding their procedures, was the body disposal. At the end of the week the doctor had us empty out the freezer into the dumpster. Yes, you read that correctly. When I began work at the next clinic (one that was much nicer, staffed by doctors who harbored mercy in their hearts) I found out that was illegal; clinics employed carcass removal companies who came and took the animals for cremation. The thing that disturbed me the most about the doctor at the first clinic was the story he told clients when their pet was put to sleep. He claimed he had a large piece of land on the Colorado River (this part of the story was true) and that he took the animals there and buried them in a pet cemetery (that part was total bullshit). That bastard is lucky no one ever asked to visit, because the place was a fantasy. Those dogs, cats, rabbits etc. were getting tossed into the dumpster and being piled up in landfills all across southwest Texas. If the owners knew that I am sure they would have been very unhappy, to say the least. Because it was Texas they probably would have shot the son of a bitch.
I could talk about other atrocities I saw at that place but I suppose no one wants to read about it. I certainly wouldn’t. I once watched a reality show about an animal hospital on Animal Planet and found it upset me very much. Who the hell wants to watch animals in pain and distress? It takes a special person to work with them, so kudos to all of those who do. Its simply a shame that an old man like me who trained into such a position late in life (hoping like hell one of his books was eventually going to sell) has to remain in the company of little kids who consider me a relic of days gone by, embarrassed that I don’t know the names of popular singing groups they listen to (I like Devildriver, Slipknot, Slayer and Cannibal Corpse; I suppose I am a little old fashioned).
So when you go into your local vet’s office and you talk to that little girl at the front desk with the purple hair and the pierced tongue, know that she probably has taken some class somewhere to ensure that she knows what she is talking about when she discusses the finer points of intestinal parasites or the pros and cons of spaying and neutering your pets. And, if you look closer, you just might see an old geezer like myself loitering around with a mop clenched in his arthritic hands, an expression of ennui on his elderly, seamed face as he wonders how these young kids can make him feel so stupid simply because he is older than them and doesn’t delight in poking your pet with a needle (yes, cats out of the bag on this one. These young girls call themselves ‘vampires’ and will fight each other for the chance to jab Fluffy with a syringe). It’s not that I can’t, I simply don’t have the energy to fight with these kids over it. I’ll probably get fired any day and then I’ll be working at the Ralph’s. I sometimes wonder what’s worse and there are days that I simply can’t make up my mind. I am still hoping people will start buying my books; please, end this madness. Buy my fucking book The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World, available on Kindle and in softcover through Amazon.com. Maybe then I can quit this job and have a little dignity. Probably not, but here’s hoping anyway! Also available soon: Glitch In The Machine and Killing The Kendershian’s, available in ebook via amazon.com.