I wasn’t one of those kids who knew veterinary medicine was my career path from the time I was about 10. How did I end up as a veterinarian? The simplistic answer is “Sheba”; the English Setter we got as a puppy when I was 7 years old. Many of us have that one “special” pet in our lives; that will always be Sheba for me. My distinct recall of the day she arrived, and the day my mother called me in college to let me know she had just had to have Sheba “put down” at 14 years of age, are equally memorable. The years and memories between those two events probably laid the groundwork for my eventual career choice.
Of course, the route was somewhat circuitous. For many years, my early career plans were pretty much based on admiration for Stan Musial—the star of the St. Louis Cardinals major league baseball team—I was left-handed and played first base just like “Stan the Man” . . . but, similarities beyond that were few and far between. Reality took quite a few years to set in; eventually I realized that a career in baseball was not in my future.
Academically, biology was an early and persistent love. As an advisor in a freshman dormitory during my junior and senior years in college, I found myself discussing potential career options with distraught freshmen . . . many of them having arrived at Tulane University with pre-med aspirations; currently having second thoughts. I discussed other potential options with them—including veterinary medicine. Am not sure that I convinced any others to follow the veterinary path; but, did manage to persuade myself. I then had 4 years of service in the Navy to consider my choice; in 1978, I entered the 1st year of the veterinary school program at the University of Missouri.
As mentioned earlier, the “simple” answer to the “why I became a vet” was Sheba—realistically, the background that set the stage for my eventual choice was genetic. My family grasped the concept of the “human animal bond” way before the terminology became popular. As I mentioned, Sheba was special—we all were smitten from her first day in our home, grew up with her as our constant companion, were in awe of her mothering instincts in raising 2 litters, and grieved collectively at her death.
There was “Scratchy” the pet rat who my Dad took to the Veterinary School Hospital with a mammary tumor—and paid the exorbitant $29 fee for surgical removal of the cancer (this was a long time ago, and that was a lot of money for a rat . . . or, so we heard from less pet-centric friends). “Tripod”, the 3-legged offspring of Sheba’s 3rd (at 10 years of age!) litter—who spent 16 pampered years in the home where she was born. “Rufus”, the parasite-infested mutt I rescued from the streets of New Orleans; then, “dumped” on my parents as I headed back to school for the next semester. Dad threatened to take Rufus to the “pound” the minute I left . . . he spent the next 14 years living the good life as Tripod’s “brother”.
In particular, I remember my Dad “walking” my mother’s favorite cat “Nappi”. Mom’s first 2 cats were indoor-outdoor neutered male cats. Both managed to get hit by a car and killed at about 2 years of age. Mom loved her cats . . . the next two (female) cats were to be strictly indoors. That was fine with “Nucci”, she knew what a good deal she had; if you opened an outside door near her, she headed immediately away from it. Nappi was the polar opposite, so my dad took her for a “leash walk” every evening. The funny thing was, I don’t think Nappi ever knew there was a leash involved. I can still picture him—a white haired, somewhat elderly gentleman–clambering over a pile of firewood alongside the driveway; following Nappi’s lead, making sure she never felt any tension from the protective leash.
Not too surprisingly, both my parents were pretty happy to have a “vet” in the family—however, their response to my veterinary advice about their pets over the years was “divergent”. As far as my Dad was concerned, from the day I graduated from veterinary school, my opinion on any animal health matters was “gospel”; in his world, I was always the expert. In my Mom’s view, my opinion was always correct . . . as long as I agreed with her medical assessment of her cats’ health issues. If I happened to have an opposing view, I received the famous “eye roll” of disbelief . . . and she persisted in her initial diagnosis. I guess, in our mothers eyes, we all often remain “little boys”. I always found (and still smile when I think about it) these contrary views of my parents quite charming.