Human/Animal Bond

My Life as a (Veterinarian’s) Dog

Donating blood isn't the only thing I do "in the name of science"

Published: August 28, 2017
Yarra faces the prospect of more nonsense "in the name of science." Photo by Dr. Mark Rishniw.

Hi, my name is Yarra. I’m an 8-year-old yellow Labrador. You know how they say that the cobbler’s kids run barefoot, the mechanic’s car leaks oil, the builder’s house has an unfinished addition on the back and the vet’s dog has fleas? Well, that last one is not quite true. My dad's a vet, and I don’t have fleas. But he's not a regular vet. He's an academic. At a university. Seems rather prestigious, right? Sort of like your dad being a real honest-to-goodness astronaut. Only it’s not at all like that. Let me tell you what it's really like to be a vet's dog.

It all started when I was about 8 months old. I would run around, having fun. Nobody noticed anything wrong. Except my dad. Just the slightest limp occasionally. Before I knew it, I was in the operating theater having both of my elbows operated on. My mum accused my dad of “breaking my dog for Christmas.” She still hasn’t quite forgiven him. She says the only thing worse was when he took her to Australia on Christmas Eve, and when they landed, it was the day after Christmas. That was when he “stole her Christmas.” Mum loves Christmas. You probably figured that out.

Not long after that, the vampiring started. Yeah, I watch those vampire movies, so I know what those vampires do. I just didn't know my dad was a vampire in a white lab-coat. He seems to take blood from me whenever he wants. He uses a needle and syringe instead of fangs, but I'm losing blood nevertheless. His friend is the clinical pathologist at his university, and when she needs to set up new reference ranges for bloodwork, she takes blood from healthy dogs. Just yesterday, I ran down to her laboratory, excited to be out of dad’s office, only to be placed in a choke hold (a gentle one, yes) while dad stuck a needle into my arm. Sheesh! What a “bring your kids to work” experience! I guess it could be worse; at least I got hugs and pats during the procedure.

That’s not the only time I’ve sacrificed my blood for science. One of dad’s friends was doing a study about platelets (I thought they were just little plates on which they served party food – boy, was I wrong!) and needed blood. Again, dad just volunteers me without asking, without seeking permission, without seeing if I’m OK with it. And then there was the time that they needed blood for another dog requiring a blood transfusion. I had to lie there with a needle (a big fat one) in my neck while they filled up a blood bag. That time they took a lot of blood. I was a bit woozy that evening.

Donating blood isn't the only thing I get to do "in the name of science." An internist was doing a study of pill cams (small capsule-like cameras that image the stomach and intestines as they pass through). Before I knew it, I was having a plastic pill pushed down my throat and spent a couple of days wearing a fancy vest, sort of like Marines in combat wear (it was actually an antenna for the camera signal). At least I got my revenge by making my dad find the capsule in my poop after I passed it. Took him days, because he didn’t know which pile it was going to be in. Serves him right.

My dad is a veterinary cardiologist. Once, he was making a video to demonstrate a chest thump procedure – something that is done to interrupt nasty arrhythmias (sort of like a cave-man version of defibrillators). My job? To lie on the table as dad pounds his fist on the side of my chest. But, hey, for a Lab, any attention means “they love me,” so my tail doesn’t stop wagging. Besides, at the end of it, I got a Milk Bone treat. Always worth being thumped if I get a Milk Bone treat! I won’t even report him to Animal Welfare for pet abuse. Not this time.

Time for nails to be clipped. I don’t really care to have my nails clipped. Does dad do it? No. He makes vet students do it (for practice). I’m only hoping to walk away from the ordeal with the same number of toes I arrived with and without sacrificing more blood in the process.

Sometimes, it’s modeling duty. Like the other day, when another professor needed a dog for photos for a text book. Dad happily sent me off with strangers to assume various poses. Did he know what they would do with me? No. Did he care? Doesn’t seem like it. At least they didn’t dress me up when they made me pose. That would have been totally humiliating. And that time, there weren’t any Milk Bone treats when we were done.

Every year, a new crop of vet students arrive. I love new students. I love new everybody. I’m a Lab, remember? Everybody new is my new BFF. But then I’m made to stand still while student after student performs a physical exam on me. Squeezes my belly. Lifts my feet. Takes my temperature (and not the fun way, either). Listens to my heart. Shines a light in my eyes. Oh, yay is me.

Lately, dad’s been doing a study of a doggie fit-bit to see how well it measures breathing rates. No prizes for guessing who gets to wear a special, tight-fitting collar for a few weeks. At least it’s purple, the “in” color for 2017 for discerning dogs. I know he got a box of these, so some of my friends are now sporting the latest in canine fitness management. We all hate them. Doesn’t matter – it’s all in the name of science.

I have been involved in so many research projects that I could almost qualify for a PhD. Maybe dad will allow me to walk with graduating students at Commencement one day. Of course, he’ll probably make me wear a stupid cape. And that fit-bit. After clipping my nails.

1 Comment

Alex Barr
August 30, 2017

Poor Yarra, always being experimented on! Give her an extra Milk Bone from me :) <3

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