In the Clinic and at the Zoo
Depending on their specialties, veterinarians’ jobs often differ from day to day. They perform regular checkups, give shots, clean animals’ teeth, and prescribe medicines. They are also called during emergencies when pets are sick or injured. Sometimes veterinarians care for female pets throughout a pregnancy, and then deliver their babies. Depending on what types of animals are treated, and what they are treated for, veterinarians’ days can vary from slow to hectic, and from ordinary to strange.
A Day in the Clinic
Dr. Coretta Patterson is a veterinarian at the University of Georgia’s veterinary teaching hospital. She regularly treats dogs and cats in the pet clinic. One day she examined Danté and Beanie, two country cats that spent most of their time outside. The cats had not visited a vet for three years, so Dr. Patterson spent quite a bit of time examining them. She weighed them and checked their vital signs, including heart rate, breathing, temperature, and blood pressure. She closely checked their fur to make sure they did not have fleas. She felt through their skin to check their kidneys, liver, intestines, and heart. Then she used a needle to draw blood from each cat, to test it for feline leukemia. Dr. Patterson finished the exam by giving both Danté and Beanie shots to protect against rabies and other diseases. Then she met with their owner to give a report of the exams.
Next Dr. Patterson examined Chip, a thirteen-year-old English springer spaniel. From previous experience she knew that Chip did not like going to the vet, so she carefully put a muzzle on his mouth. This would protect her if he got scared and decided to bite. Chip’s owner had taken him to the clinic because the dog’s ears were bothering him. Dr. Patterson examined Chip and found that he had an ear infection. She thoroughly cleaned his ears and applied some medicine.
These types of routine examinations and treatments are typical for Dr. Patterson, who works during the day from Monday through Friday. In addition to her veterinary work, she teaches students in the classroom and in the clinic. She also regularly meets with students who need help or advice.
A Night in the ER
Veterinarian Andy Sokol’s schedule is very different from Dr. Patterson’s. Dr. Sokol works from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., which he prefers because he says nighttime is when the most interesting cases come into the clinic. One night he treated a female boxer named Angel that had been shot through the nose. He patched the wound and gave Angel some medicine to stop the spread of infection. His next case was a Siberian husky named Snow that had eaten some of his owner’s muscle relaxant pills. The pills were safe for humans but could be fatal to animals. Dr. Sokol gave Snow some medicine that would cause him to vomit the drugs. He also inserted an intravenous catheter (IV) into the dog’s vein so medicine could quickly be carried into his system.
Later that night Dr. Sokol examined a police dog with a wounded paw. He gave the dog anesthesia to make him sleep, and then sewed up his wound. He also treated a Labrador retriever with a bad cut on his ear, and a cat that was injured when a car backed over it. In all these cases Dr. Sokol was able to treat the animals and send them home.
Life as a Zoo Doctor
Unlike dogs, cats, and other household pets, zoo animals cannot be loaded into a car and driven to a clinic. Veterinarians must treat them at the zoos where they live. Dr. Steven Marks, a veterinarian from Pittsburgh, specializes in caring for animals in zoos and aquariums. He has performed such jobs as removing an infected tusk from an elephant, operating on a reindeer with a hernia, stitching the cut ear of a lemur, and treating a monkey for malnutrition.
One of Dr. Marks’s days involved treating a giant sea turtle that had sores on its shell called lesions. With the assistance of the zookeeper, Dr. Marks lifted the turtle from its tank and lowered it to the ground so he could examine it. He scraped the infected area on the shell and covered it with a medicine patch, which he attached with a thick coating of waterproof paste. His veterinary assistant used a hair dryer to dry the paste, and the turtle was put back into the tank.
Dr. Marks next performed a physical on Chuckles, an Amazon River dolphin. The zoo curator loaded Chuckles onto a specially designed stretcher with holes for his flippers, and put a strap around his mouth to keep him from biting. Then the stretcher (with Chuckles inside) was hung on a scale so the dolphin’s weight could be recorded. Dr. Marks drew a blood sample, which he says is tricky with dolphins because their veins are hard to find. Once he had finished drawing blood, he cleaned Chuckles’s teeth. The last step was to scrub him with an antibacterial solution to guard against the fungus that grows in water tanks. After his exam Dr. Marks determined that Chuckles was in good health, and the dolphin was returned to his tank.
Creatures in the Wild
Some veterinarians specialize in wild animals that are not in captivity. Dr. Kathleen Ramsay became interested in wildlife medicine when she was a veterinary student and a golden eagle was brought to the clinic where she worked. The eagle’s legs were caught in a steel trap, and the bird was near death. Ramsay vowed to nurse the eagle back to health—and that is exactly what she did. From that point on she was committed to helping save wild animals and birds. In 1986 she founded a clinic in Espanola, New Mexico, called the Wildlife Center. Today people from all over the country take sick and injured creatures to Dr. Ramsay, who has become a well-known veterinarian and surgeon.
Dr. Ramsay’s schedule is always hectic. During one day she treated a horned owl that had been shot and a hawk recovering from a leg fracture. She bandaged sores on the feet of two golden eagles and examined a fawn that hikers had brought to the clinic. When three angry and snarling baby raccoons were brought in, Dr. Ramsay diagnosed them with a deadly virus called distemper. Wearing rubber gloves to protect herself from being scratched or bitten, she gave them shots to get rid of the virus. Then she used a tongue depressor to feed them baby food. With these and other animals Dr. Ramsay sees, her goal is to help them become healthy so she can release them back into their natural habitats.
Veterinarians may spend days examining dogs, cats, eagles, or hawks, or nights treating injured snakes and lizards. They may work in clinics or treat animals in zoos and aquariums. Their jobs and schedules depend on when they work, where they practice, and what they specialize in. No two veterinarians do exactly the same thing, but there is a common thread that ties them all together: their commitment to keeping animals healthy.