Whenever I tell people I’m a veterinarian, I see their eyes light up, and I know exactly what’s coming next: “Oh my gosh! It must be so amazing to get to play with cute puppies and kitties all day! You’re so lucky!” But being a vet isn’t just showing up in the morning and then frolicking with adorable animals from open till close. Many people are surprised to learn there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
You have to remember, I also get to kill quite a few of the animals.
That’s not to say these folks aren’t partially correct. As a doctor of veterinary medicine, it’s true, I really do get to pet some of the cutest, cuddliest furballs you’ve ever laid eyes on. Dozens and dozens of them! But if we’re being totally honest, that really oversimplifies a lot of what a vet does. So I like to gently remind people that another, equally satisfying part of my job is injecting those same cuddly furballs with enough barbiturates to stop their little hearts.
Generally, about three or four times a day.
When people put themselves in my shoes, I guess it’s easy for them to fantasize about rubbing tummies and handing out treats. And while I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, I do think it’s important that I nudge perceptions of my profession a bit more toward reality. This job is hard work, I explain, but one of the most rewarding parts is being able to terminate the lives of cats and dogs and rabbits and other pets. I describe just what it is I get to do: give the animals a powerful sedative so they don’t convulse violently on my examination table, administer a lethal drug, and then sit back and watch while the light fades from their eyes.
I also make a point of mentioning that I get to see the looks on owners’ faces when I turn to them and say, “She’s gone.”
During an ordinary workday, quite a bit of my time is spent just as people imagine. I meet a variety of lovable dogs and cats, as well as a few more exotic pets like monitor lizards, talking parrots, and Petunia, the potbellied mini pig—one of my favorite patients, and such a character! The work doesn’t stop there, however. Just yesterday, for example, I diagnosed Petunia with chronic myelogenous leukemia and recommended immediate euthanasia to her owner, whose name escapes me. Isn’t that funny? A lot of times you remember the pet’s name and not the owner’s! Anyway, after standing aside and watching the owner’s tearful goodbye, I swiftly dispatched Petunia with a massive dose of pentobarbital.
But again, no one is aware of that part of my day, or of the heavy, satisfying thud Petunia’s body made when I tossed her into the incinerator right before I fired it up and cremated her. So I just like to remind people that, yes, it’s fun to play with the animals, but killing them can be very gratifying, too.
So next time you meet a veterinarian, sure, you can talk about how great it must be to interact with cute animals for a living—and, believe me, it is—but if you really want to make his or her day, ask about all the different pets they get to put down. I guarantee you’ll make a new friend.
Also, with smaller rodents, I get to snap their necks using a cervical dislocation technique.