maybe you need a new kitten? or a microchip?

Two nights ago at the hospital, I was on pager duty, which means that anytime someone needs something (the front desk has a new patient that has been dropped off; a dr. needs help restraining an animal for an exam, etc.), I was the go-to girl. It was a quiet night, and so wasn’t until about 6AM that I got my first page for the whole night: “stray…surrender..please pick up”.

Some nice person had been out for her morning walked and found a young cat, no more than 6 months but showing signs of having had her first litter recently, walking about the park. They brought her to us, so that she could go to the shelter (and, ugh, hopefully they didn’t unknowingly strip her from a new litter of kittens…)

I haven’t been stuck with pager duty since last year, and it’s been ages since I’ve had to deal with a stray. Actually, I think the last stray/surrender I had to deal with was Martin, who is currently purring up a rhumba three inches from my face…soooo it’s probably best that I don’t do it so often.

So I went to the front desk to collect the little cat; took her through an exam room to scan her for microchips (no ID found, naturally), and then we took the walk down to the shelter. The shelter has several holding rooms for animals – the public ones, with animals that are ready for adoption TODAY, and more private ones with animals who still need their shots, their spays, etc., or who still need to evaluated behaviorally to see if they can be adopted out. The new kids go into one of these back rooms.

No employees were in yet, and so the shelter was initially fairly silent. As soon as I flipped on the lights in a back cat room, a chorus of meows erupted. It was full…it SUCKED. Cats of all ages, newborn kittens, older, more sedate cats, a few litters, a few adult “siblings” whose bloody owners moved and couldn’t take their pets with them (so freaking unfathomable, I hate that more than anything I think, treating a pet like a bag of old laundry destined for Goodwill). There were at least 30 cats in that room alone, and that was just a fraction of the total cats in the building, waiting to be adopted.

Soon enough the dogs next door were up and so after I got the new kid tucked into one of the few remaining empty cages (with a bowl of food that he nosedived into), I moseyed over there to say hello. It was also full, and also sucked.  And not just full of pit bulls, as is often the case, but a good mix of different breeds, all sizes, all ages. That Pedigree-sponsored Sarah Maclachlan commercial? It’s not sensationalized…they really do look at you like that. Like “I don’t belong here, I belong home in my bed, getting a belly rub or chewing on shoes…not in this loud, scary, unfriendly, lonely place. Somebody screwed up here, could you just fix it and send me home?” Gah. Sucked.

So anyway. Last night, I wasn’t on pager duty, but this morning, again at 6AM, the front desk called to say that they had tried the pager (pager person was already helping take x-rays), but there was another stray and could someone please come pick him up? I answered the phone, so off I went with a sad feeling that history was about to repeat itself. Deja vu.

This time the unfortunate soul was a ridiculously friendly little spaniel, entirely too personable and darling to not have a loving family frantically worrying about her. I held my breath as I scanned her for a microchip, and thank God, didn’t have to wait long – a number popped up immediately, and she was back in her parent’s arms in less than an hour.

I was so happy for the happy ending, for a saved life.

Shelter medicine is an emerging specialty in veterinary medicine, on par with cardiology, surgery, etc. You can do a residency, get board certified. It’s one specialty that slightly appeals to me, even though the focus is largely on herd health and infectious diseases…but it’s definitely an area that needs good, dedicated people, and one where you could really make an impact.

And yet, I’m afraid it’d be so crazy depressing that I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it long-term. Hrm.


One thought on “maybe you need a new kitten? or a microchip?

  1. allbutone

    As hard as all the suffering inherent in emergency/critical care medicine is, I could never, ever do shelter medicine. I already have to do enough with strays – city policy is that all cats with URIs get euthanized on the spot, and my hospital must comply – that my heart would break if I worked in a shelter. I have 2 classmates determined to do shelter medicine, and I’m glad the animals will have them.

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