Toxicology. Pathology. Poultry medicine. Herd management. These are examples of courses from the veterinary curriculum. In Canada, a veterinary degree requires four years of education and graduates pursue a wide range of career paths. I have a classmate who works in Indonesia with the World Health Organization monitoring outbreaks of avian influenza. Another classmate is a neurologist working at a referral hospital in Toronto. The field of veterinary medicine is now very broad and there is no way to cram everything into the four years it takes to make a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Nonetheless, I wish my professors had added a few extra courses to the curriculum. These would be things like; 1. How to communicate with clients 101, 2. How to run a business 101, 3. Human versus animal psychology 101.
I did take animal behaviour courses and there are recognized canine and feline behavioural problems that are analogous to human conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder and separation anxiety. However, human behavior is an order of magnitude more complex than displayed by our veterinary patients. I am probably offending a few dogs and cats by saying this, but animals are more predictable and trustworthy than humans. Animals do not lie, or suffer from substance abuse, or commit identity theft, or write bad cheques.
Veterinary college did not prepare me for the need to understand human behavior when dealing with the public and running a business. I have been struggling with this deficiency for years.
When I began to practice veterinary medicine, I was completely naive regarding the diversity of personalities that can walk into a veterinary hospital. At first I was a bit overwhelmed but I have learned to enjoy being a vet simply because crazy things do happen. For example, I once had an over-the-counter conversation with a woman regarding her sick dog. Her pooch had a cough and she imitated the coughing and retching very theatrically and then said, “Doc, do you think you can fix him?”
“Well, how long has your dog been doing this?” I asked.
“Oh it comes and goes.” And then again dramatically imitated the hacking and spewing of phlegm.
Wiping my face, I asked, “Could you bring him in for an appointment?”
“I suppose I would if you could tell me what is making him go like this – aaaacckkk, aaaaccccckkk, aaaacckkk, aaaacckkk.”
“I wonder if he might have kennel cough. Is he vaccinated?”
“I don’t want to vaccinate him. I want to know why he makes the aaaaccckk noise. It sounds like this – aaaack, aaaackkkk, aaaacckkk. What causes that?”
“There must be a problem with his respiratory tract. Either the lungs or the trachea. How old is your dog? Perhaps we should take an x-ray.”
“I don’t know how old he is. He is a stray. Would the x-ray show why he goes aaaacckkk, aaaaaackk, aaaaaaackkkkk? I don’t think it’s the lungs. Are you not listening? It sounds like this – aaaaacckkk. It must be the throat.”
Inanely, I continued this conversation for 15 minutes until the woman eventually decided that I was incapable of diagnosing a simple case of aaaacckkk.
As she turned to leave and stepped away from the counter, I was surprised to see that she was not wearing any shoes or any pants. Just panties. I had just had a 15 minute conversation with a woman who was more or less naked from the waist down.
She walked outside and then collapsed on the front lawn of the clinic where her partner was waiting. I rushed outside.
“Is she OK?”
“Oh yeah. She’ll be fine. Sometimes she takes too many pills. She’ll sleep it off.”
Yes, humans are much more complicated than animals.
Donkeys may however be an exception.
My donkey, Pancho, is a dear creature. He brays and wakes me up every day at 7 am. He gets fed at 7:30 am.
If I have to leave the house early, and he gets fed at 6 am, he recalibrates. The next morning, I get a wake up bray at 5:30 am.
One time my wife and I took Pancho on a trail ride with a horse named Jack. We borrowed Jack from a friend because our pack horse was lame. Now Jack had never seen a donkey before and he thought Pancho was some kind of alien. You know, a dangerous horse-eating kind of alien. Whenever Pancho came within 20 feet of Jack, Jack would pin his ears and either try to bite or kick or stomp poor Pancho. And it was hardly a fair match either. Jack was a great big draft horse and Pancho as you know is just a wee donkey.
At the end of the day we made camp and we hobbled the horses and let them graze. Pancho grazed too but he kept a close eye on Jack and scurried away whenever hobbled Jack tried to take a run at him.
Pancho wandered over to where I was setting up the tent. As I was pounding in pegs and going about my business I passed by Pancho.
Wham! Pancho kicked me in the shin. And it was a hard kick too. Normally, Pancho is a docile lovable goof. Why did he do that?
Human psychologists recognize something they call “redirected aggression”. When a person is frustrated by someone or something, they may vent their frustration on someone else.”
Yes, donkeys are clever. Clever like us humans.