Ten days after completing veterinary school, I left my small (rented) farm in Missouri and headed east; toward my first “real” job as a practicing vet in Boston, MA. This was quite a geographic and cultural shift. For the record, I had a great 3 years in Boston—socially, culturally, and learning the necessary clinical and communication skills that formed the basis for my career—but, the Boston clients included a little larger percentage of what we term “high maintenance” clients than I was used to from my Midwestern roots.
As a group, I would characterize New Englanders (both my parents were originally from Rhode Island) as educated, informed, opinionated (I don’t mean that in a negative sense), and communicative. This combination of personality traits typically enhanced the exchange of information and concerns during the exam room visit . . . occasionally, it made communication somewhat more difficult. Mostly, as in most communication difficulties, it was a matter of individuals wanting to talk a whole lot more than they were willing to listen . . .occasionally we had issues with clients preferring to give their opinion about what was wrong with their pet, instead of considering our concerns—which were usually a little more grounded in actual medical details. Luckily, the internet had not yet been “invented”, so we didn’t have to deal with “Dr. Google” opinions being thrown into the mix.
Muriel Jones (not her real name) was one memorable client who fit into that “high maintenance” category. She was a personable, intelligent lady with a good sense of humor; but on the edge of the bell curve regarding her opinions and concerns about her two dogs. They were very nice boys, but BIG—one a Great Dane, the other a Mastiff . . . and both were intact males; Muriel was pretty emphatic that they were going to remain so. This became an issue in the small apartment the three of them occupied downtown.
Jocko (the Dane) and Moose (the Mastiff) usually got along just fine, even in their close quarters. However, every 3-5 months, “something” happened to their congenial friendship—food, or a toy, another dog around, who knows what—tempers and testosterone flared, and the fight was on! Try to imagine 300 pounds of dogs snarling, snapping, and wrestling their way through an apartment. Even when Muriel was home, breaking up the fight was a task; cleaning up after, even more so.
Invariably, we saw one or both of the dogs as a result of the tussle to repair lacerations, broken teeth, torn nails, etc.; and the repairs were often costly, adding to Muriel’s displeasure. We finally convinced her to neuter one or both of the dogs; she chose Moose, since he seemed to be the usual instigator. The surgery (and resultant decrease in testosterone levels) solved the problem for 6-9 months, then Jocko became the troublemaker . . . and we saw the pair for a few more post-fight emergency visits.
We recommended neutering Jocko, after a few more altercations, Muriel was convinced . . . but, not happy. She said she didn’t like “all her dogs walking around without testicles” and convinced another veterinarian in my hospital to order testicular implants from a human supply company. That surgery (with a number of predictable post-operative problems) was completed; with the testosterone issue fixed, Moose and Jocko settled into an amiable relationship—resulting in far fewer emergency trips to see us.
When I left the practice to move to Colorado, I transitioned most of my clients/pets care to Dr. Leslie Taylor—a bright, young veterinarian who had recently joined the practice. I spoke with her occasionally and learned that Moose had died suddenly from cardiomyopathy/congestive heart failure, but that Muriel and Jocko were doing fine.
Later, one December evening, I got a phone call from Leslie with an “I’ve got to tell you this” story. The previous night, she had received a late phone call from Muriel because Jocko was dead and Muriel wanted Leslie to come pick up the body for aftercare—an unusual request. Leslie said, “Muriel, what happened?”. Apparently, she had been out for the evening, and returned to find that her apartment had been broken into and burglarized. Muriel was so angry at Jocko for allowing this to happen that she went to her bedroom, removed her revolver from a drawer next to the bed, then shot and killed Jocko . . . and now, wanted Leslie to come “take care of the body”.
Leslie said, “I’ll come right down, Muriel”–then hung up and called 911 and said “There’s a distraught lady down on Commonwealth Avenue with a loaded pistol who just shot her dog; you need to get someone down there.” This “high maintenance” example may have something to do with my continuing to move west instead of heading back east when I later moved from Colorado!