A few weeks ago I blogged about the feminization of veterinary medicine. I talked about several of the reasons why this gender shift may have occurred. But what I didn’t talk about is why I, personally, went into the field. For all it’s worth, here is my story.
What I always tell people is that my decision was based on the amazing experience I had when my dog Jeepers had surgery at the Animal Medical Center in New York city, after having had broken his leg and hip when being hit by a car. The visits there, and the whole process served to cement my interest in the field. The reality, though, as I think about it now, is that my upbringing before and after this event is really what led to my career choice.
I was raised in a “blended” household. Nowadays, that might mean stepbrothers and stepsisters. For me, it was a mix of my mother, an animal lover, and my dad, a Greek immigrant who wasn’t raised with animals, at least not indoors. My mother came from a long line of dog lovers. My grandmother, for many of my formative years, lived next door. It is there that she lived with my grandfather, and Sheba, a German Shepherd. I often refer to her as a German Shepherd “breeder”. But if I am being completely honest, Sheba was not so well bred, and nor were her offspring. There was really not much “pure” in her breeding, unless you can credit her for producing the world’s first black and white spotted, long haired German Shepherd. And, coincidentally there was a neighboring male intact Rottweiler who bore a strong resemblance to several of her puppies. Still, she did give birth to several dozen lovely puppies, all of which were whelped with our help, and then sent off to new, forever homes. I recall being taught how to warm the newborns in the oven, and us all getting a chance to swing the puppies around in large circles to “clear their lungs”, just after they were born. It was not until decades later did I realize that this home obstetrics practice had fallen out of favor.
There was a short list of kittens that came, and then went, to my aunt’s home, as my mother was allergic. So we were mainly, but not limited to, being a dog family. So how did my mother convert my dad into a dog lover? By having a constant stream of the most hyperactive large dogs on the planet, Irish Setters. We had an Irish Setter named, of course, Zorba. Zorba, the Greek Irish Setter, joined Sampson and Atlas. We also had a Rottweiler named King, who saved my brother’s life in NY, during an attempted robbery. With King, we had another German Shepherd named Sheba. Clearly, it was such a good name that we used it again.
We were not only dog lovers, but we were sort of “well known” dog lovers, at least locally. That is, after the infamous Halloween party incident. My mother thought it would be a great idea to have a local dog birthday party for our dog Sampson, requiring all 4 legged guests to come in costume. One dog, a Bassett Hound, promiscuously dressed in a miniskirt, and evidently in heat, got a little more attention than she was hoping for at the party. Needless to say, 63 days later they welcomed a litter of puppies. Hence, there was “Some splainin to do”, and one less neighbor we could call a friend. And you think your parents embarrassed you as a teenager? I kid you not, this is a true story. You can look it up. It made the front page in the Jersey Journal, sometime in the mid-70’s. Long before electricity and the internet. If you happen upon the article, please forward it to me.
But we had more love to give, so when I was 12 or so, we “adopted” Willie, a Wooley monkey. By adopted, I mean, my mother found him in a sketchy pet store in Miami, where he was likely smuggled into the country. My grandmother was living there at this point. Willie was young, and would wear the cutest diapers that had a hole for a tail. He weighed no more than 10 or 12 lbs. I have a vivid memory of the exciting trip home to New Jersey, flying into Newark airport. In the baggage claim, they announced that everyone should pay close attention to the arrival of a very special guest on our luggage carousel . Willy wore an unfortunate teal turtleneck sweater for the cold flight, and came onto the belt screaming because it had unfolded, covering his head. You can imagine the scene as hundreds of people watched as what looked like a screaming, headless, arms flailing ET-like creature arrived.
He bonded with my father, and would nap on his chest, on our plastic slipcovered couches. He loved ice cream, and fought with my younger sister like they were siblings. Sadly, one day, he disappeared. My mother explained that he was not happy living in north Jersey, and went to live “on a farm in Pennsylvania”. I have lived in Pennsylvania for decades, and never once have I seen any of those monkey farms. So I finally asked what I already suspected, and she confirmed that he had died. A basement in NJ was not an ideal environment in which to raise a monkey, and he had died of pneumonia. And, if I am being honest a second time, I was well into my 30’s when I had this epiphany/bout of common sense.
We also had a mynah bird named Pepper. He spoke a lot. He often would say, “I’m Pepper! What’s your name?! and “Help! Help!” Years later, my brother had an African Grey who used profanity. Today, my sister is what some might consider a conure aficionado. Her birds also are big talkers, and one takes to screaming obscenities at me whenever I try to have a conversation with her on the phone. They all enjoy music while she is out during the day; preferably something by Frank Sinatra, or The Four Seasons.
Sometime in the late 70’s my mother made a continental shift in dog preferences. We now had small, white dogs. Sugar and Jeepers were a Maltese, and Miniature Poodle, respectively. Sugar was always sweet, as her name implied. Jeepers, well, not so much, but we loved him. Jeepers became less patient with people after his weeks rehabbing in the hospital after getting hit by a car. Mia and Torie, also Maltese, followed, who were both small, and smaller versions of the breed. My giant labrador Coach was terrified of Torie, as he resembled more of a snarling long haired rat than a dog in his mind.
So maybe I was exposed to female veterinary role models in power, and maybe I wasn’t. For me, I think that being raised with animal lovers led me to being an animal lover. And that led to me being a veterinarian.