Feel good pet tails; A tiny chinchilla fills a big heart

Judy and I went on a 14 mile hike in the Arizona desert today.  By the time we returned to our truck, it was getting a little cold, and I had a case of the chills.  It reminded me of one winter afternoon when I went to check a bunch of cows at a dairy farm in New York.  6 cows had twisted stomachs and needed surgery.  It was 20 below zero outside and colder inside the barn.

Each surgery took 45 minutes and I had to strip to the waist to scrub up and operated that way.  In between each surgery I pulled my coat on to prep the next cow and regain some body heat.  Before I began the last surgery, I went out to my truck and started it up and cranked the heater and blower up to as high as they would go.  When I finished and dressed again for the last time, my hands were shaking and my whole body vibrating uncontrollably.  The cows were doing fine but the doctor was blue.  I climbed into my truck and felt the lovely, delicious, heart and body warming heat blowing over me like the hot sun in July.  It felt so good I almost shed a tear.

I think of that day whenever I get chilled and remember my old friend, my truck, with the wonderful heater.  It’s amazing the simple things that bring us the greatest and most exhilarating joy.  Life doesn’t have to be so complicated, but it is.  I returned to the clinic to see a few small animal appointments.  I took a short hot shower and then began the appointments.  One of them was an 8 ounce chinchilla with a large tumor on his hind leg.  I had just operated on six 1500 pound cows and wrestled all day with cows, horses, farmers, and all manner of large animals and now my patient weighed less than a cup of coffee.  But the owner loved that little creature with all her heart and that was what brought us together in the exam room.

I had never operated on something so tiny.  It needed to have the leg amputated, so general anesthesia was the order of the day.  I devised a mask from a plastic syringe cover and made a hole in the bottom into which I could place the tube carrying oxygen blended with gas anesthetic to render the beast unconscious and without pain.  We clipped and scrubbed the leg and I chose the smallest  uture materials we had and went into surgery.  I carefully dissected the muscles of the leg and ligated all the tiny bleeders and removed the leg.   I sutured up the muscles covering the bone that was left and then sutured the skin.  I shut off the anesthetic so the chinchilla was just on oxygen, and within 5 minutes, it was up and moving around.  In an hour it was eating and doing well.

It was the most remarkable thing I had ever done.  Such a tiny beating heart about the size of a pea, but valiant in the struggle to live.  It is amazing the effect such a tiny creature can have on a human being.  They can uplift, strengthen, give purpose to being, save from depression, exhilarate, and bring joy to the troubled heart.  It certainly did all of those things for me.  As I watched it recover and run around I felt great purpose in my chosen career as I relayed to the owner the remarkable recovery of her beloved pet and watched her shed tears of relief.

Cited from the book Fella, a collection of lifetime memories that reminds readers of the trust animals place in us to be their friends and guardians.

By: Dan Gilchrist, DVM
Waterville Veterinary Clinic
Waterville, NY

Deployment with Urban Search and Rescue

In September 2013, Laura McLain Madsen, DVM of Holladay Veterinary Hospital in Salt Lake City, UT had an amazing experience deploying with FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) to the flooding in Colorado. She has been working with the search dogs and handlers for about six years, and then officially joined US&R Utah Task Force 1 in 2012 as team veterinarian.

Some of the hundreds of pets who evacuated with their owners on Army helicopters.

Some of the hundreds of pets who evacuated with their owners on Army helicopters.

There are 28 US&R task forces across the country, each comprised of several hundred people and a dozen or so dogs. Unlike smaller search and rescue teams that are focused on finding people lost in the wilderness, urban search and rescue teams are large teams with heavy-duty equipment to focus on rescuing people trapped in urban environments after large-scale disasters. The disasters to which US&R deploys include terrorist attacks (World Trade Center), hurricanes (Katrina), earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. Each task force is capable of deploying within four hours of a disaster, with all the equipment, supplies and personnel necessary to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.

Most of her teammates are firefighters, since they already have training in rigging, extrication and rescue. The team is also comprised of physicians, structural engineers and canine handlers.

Laura McLain McLain, DVM, and “Zeteo,” a search and rescue dog.

Laura McLain McLain, DVM, and “Zeteo,” a search and rescue dog.

The team was called up shortly after midnight on September 13, 2013.  Dragging herself out of bed, Dr. McLain got her uniform and equipment, and drove to the warehouse. She performed pre-deployment exams on the four dogs, and filled out their health certificates. The team spent most of that day convoying to Boulder in a long line of semis, trucks and vans. All roads into Colorado were closed that crossed into the state through a highway patrol roadblock. The team finally got to the Boulder Airport around 6:00pm, where they set up their base of operations, alongside the US&R task force from Nebraska.

As a team veterinarian, Dr. McLain’s primary goal was to keep the search dogs healthy so they can do their job of finding any individuals that were trapped. All of the Utah team dogs remained healthy for the entire deployment, but one of the Nebraska team dogs became ill, with profuse diarrhea and dehydration. The Nebraska task force does not have a veterinarian (less than half the task forces nationally have DVM’s) so Dr. McLain treated him as well and he was back to work the next day.

Dr. McLain was also called on to examine pets of evacuee, where there were long lines of evacuees coming off helicopters. 20 Army Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters flew back and forth between the canyons and the airport, evacuating residents and their pets. Some helicopter loads had more animals than people. Of course there were many dogs and cats, but also a fair number of exotic pets: parrots, turtles, small mammals, geese, fish, and even a monkey. Overall, the pets were amazingly healthy and happy. A few dogs had minor abrasions and lacerations from the flooding that were treated.

The deployment lasted a week. Dr. McLain expressed that despite being sore, soaked, and mentally and physically exhausted, it wasan invaluable experience for her and all of the other team members involved.