Working in a veterinary specialty field exposes me to a unique cross section of humanity. I see the true animal people, a people with whom I feel a particular kinship. I see the animal people who will go above and beyond to treat their animals, and if they don’t have the means, they will sell a kidney, sleep with a congressman, or take out a second mortgage on their homes. They will do these things whether the treatment is life-saving or elective, it doesn’t matter. These animals are more than their family, they are their children, their charges, extensions of themselves. The manifestations of these commitments are as colorful as Cam Brady’s Rainbow Land. We have dogs coming into the clinic riding in stollers or Baby Bjorns, dogs wearing elaborate three-piece outfits that often include hats and pants, patients whose owners drop them off for a few hours with suitcases larger than triplets’ diaper bag and more full of belongings. And sometimes Jesus himself sends our patients to us.
As I sat at one of the computers at work today, I glanced over and saw my fellow technician pulling a full sized Radio Flyer red wagon lined with blankets, pillows, toys, a vial of holy water, and a small, miserable looking dog along for the ride. As I looked at the wagon and wondered, not for the first time, when dogs stopped needing to walk on their own legs, I realized that yes, I had actually just seen a vial of holy water sitting in the wagon with the dog. I reached down to greet the dog and pet him on his head, which was wet. I looked at my hand, assuming that it was urine or vomit or some other secretion – it usually is. My coworker corrected me, saying that the owner had a priest bless the dog before this visit, and had sprinkled holy water on his head. (Because of all the demons that hang around vet clinics?)
I had holy water on my hand. I paused, wondering if I should be feeling anything. A burning sensation, perhaps, or a sense of palm and fingertip redemption. Just as I was about to give up on getting holier, another coworker burst through the door, a little out of breath and almost in tears, asking if I would try to place an IV catheter in a surgery patient that no one else had been able to catheterize yet. I looked down at my hand again and shielded my eyes from the mysterious light shining from behind it as I heard a synthesized organ music chord. I had holy water on my hand. I would catheterize the hell out of that patient.
“Let’s do this,” I said.
I told the very anxious small dog not to worry anymore, Jesus and The Virgin Mary and the priest who blessed the holy water and The Pope were all going to help me take care of him. Where the most skilled among me had failed, I placed the IV catheter smoothly on my first stick, and the dog didn’t even flinch. A chorus of my coworkers yelled, “Thank you, Jesus, Mary, and The Pope!” from behind me, and as I passed the patient back to the surgery team, they told me I did a great job. I told them I was but a conduit for all the IV catheter saints that had come before.
I had gotten a small amount of blood and eye goo (technical term) on my hands in the catheter process, and I headed for the soap. I paused again, wondering if washing a holy watered hand with anti-bacterial soap was asking for trouble. The thought didn’t last long because I had other things to do, and I couldn’t do them with blood on my hands. As for the dog in the wagon, I’m happy to say that he was significantly less miserable when we sent him home. We also made him behave like a dog, telling him “no,” making him tolerate having his feet touch the actual floor, not letting him bite us, etc., all of which was a refreshing change of pace for him.
I would guess that there is literally no end to the lengths this owner would go for her dog. Of course, the dog clearly hadn’t been groomed or bathed in a very long time, his ears were full of pudding (another technical term), and he wasn’t getting any of his medications because he apparently bites his owners. But he gets to ride around on a wagon more comfortable than most humans’ cars, and he gets to go to church. I am in favor of animals receiving the best treatment available, but I am also in favor of the priorities that reality imposes. Like if your 20 pound pet needs medicine, give it to him. And don’t neglect daily grooming needs like wiping eye discharge from his skin before it turns into an infection, keeping his toenails from growing too long and curling into his feet, and keeping his hair from matting and causing skin sores. Most importantly, don’t spend so much time taking your dog to church that you fail to notice a hole forming in his eye and it becomes too late. However, his holy water was able to keep him from going to hell that day, and that has to count for something.