“I rescued this dog!” my client said proudly, as her delightful little Chihuahua mix wiggled happily in her arms. The young woman standing there with her dog, at one of our outside pet exam tables, could not boast of any material prosperity as the world defines it. At the time, she didn't even have a roof over her head, not a home to call her own. Home was just an idea between her and her dog. She told me a story of abuse and neglect that had led to a pup almost being drowned in the River. When the she saw the little creature’s life on the line, she stepped in with her rescue. “You sure did rescue her! Looks like she’s doing great,” I said as I listened to her story, and examined a happy, healthy, well-cared-for pet.
I've had similar conversations many times at Mercer. There's always a special glow to a person as they assert, "I rescued this pet." It's like seeing the perfection of our humanness, glimpsing someone's ideal self. Hearing the statement so frequently from our Mercer clients has made me reevaluate my mental image of the term "pet rescue." I realized that somehow my mental picture implicitly involved more -- well -- resources. I guess that, before, I mostly pictured a family from the suburbs going to the shelter and picking out a pet for their kids. Here, at Mercer Clinic, I found an equally valid interpretation of “rescue.” The image of these fine folks, who were sharing what little they had with a fellow creature, even represented the idea of “rescue” better than my old mental image had. They proved that you don't have to be rich to rescue a pet -- you don't even have to be moderately prosperous. These beautiful people are doing a service of inestimable value to society, keeping precious creatures out of our crowded shelters, creating homes where there were none before.
We in the medical profession, student and doctor and teacher and assistant alike, pride ourselves on thinking with precision. Our thoughts are disciplined. Our opinions and impressions are meticulously shaped by research, honest observation, and Facts. It's not often that we find a mental definition that we need to refine. That's why I feel compelled to write down what I learned about "rescue."
As I worked on improving my definition of “rescue,” I remembered the common saying in shelter work, “This dog rescued me.” It turns out that we can be rescued not just FROM something bad but TO something better. The bonds I see between people and their pets are most often two-way rescues for both parties. The pet is living an enriched, healthier life; and the person is expressing their natural capacity for care. Both are thriving together.
For myself, treating a pet's health, helping that bond to thrive, is my rescue. As Sherlock Holmes would say, it's "rescue from ennui." Veterinary medicine is a vocation that brings interest and excitement, challenge and accomplishment to my work life. Beyond that, it's also rescue to a life of caring, the opportunity to be just one player in a person's story and a pet's story.
Our work at Mercer brings people together. Students, clinicians, organizers, undergrads -- all of them volunteers -- work with and for some of the most humble and authentically caring pet people you could ever meet. During a clinic day we are care providers and medical consultants to these wonderful people and their pets. Beyond that, for the brief duration of an office visit, we get to be someone's friend. Friend to our brother or sister of the human race, but also friend to the canine and feline beings who associate with us and make our lives richer. Relationships are our true wealth. My work here reminds me of that so clearly. It's a lesson I want to keep in mind for the rest of my career. It's how I want to practice medicine for every one of my patients, for as long as I’m allowed to stay on this earth and do this work. This is what veterinary medicine means to me and to my peers. This is a life, rescued. This is a life that thrives. This is Mercer clinic.
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Our inspirational thought for July is written by Erik Darnell, DVM candidate in the class of 2021 at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Historian and Webmaster for Mercer Clinic.