Posts Tagged ‘Veterinary stories’

Official Apex Reviews Rating:

Animals Don’t Blush takes the reader on an enjoyable, eye-opening journey through the ups and downs of a first-year veterinarian in Montana. In accessible, often hilarious language, author David Gross shares a variety of different anecdotes highlighting his rather entertaining experiences as the primary caregiver for a wide cross section of four-legged patients. Throughout the pages of Animals Don’t Blush, Gross’ considerable expertise shines through, as well as the deep-rooted compassion he has for both animals and their owners. Informative without being pedantic, and amusing without being pandering, this page-turning tome is sure to please more than just the animal lovers amongst us.

A highly satisfying literary treat from a truly gifted storyteller.

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Charlize and I just returned from the Pacific Northwest Book Sellers Association annual meeting in Portland, OR. While there Charlize made a host of new human friends and I had the opportunity to meet and greet owners and employees of independent bookstores. It was great fund to talk about my books and to autograph and give books to them. I hope they will read the books and like them. If so they are likely to recommend them to their customers. Giving those books away makes sense to me.

When one of my books is purchased used at least three things happen:

1) Sellers of the new book, especially independent bookstores, lose out. I hate that and so do they.

2) The author and the publisher receive nothing and it competes with the a sale of the book new.

3) It actually costs the publisher and/or author out of pocket. They must pay a “set up fee” plus a monthly fee to warehouse new copies of the book with a distributor.

I’ve had people tell me that they really enjoyed one of my books. When I inquired I found they had purchased it used online or from a used bookstore. I was happy they liked my work but I had no idea one of my books had been sold in this manner and most certainly received no remuneration for the sale.

I hope that when folks are done reading one of my books they will give them as gifts. That will build an audience for my work. Every used book sold competes against a new copy for which I might be paid.

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The Holstein bull raged in the steel stanchion, two thousand pounds of fury jumping, kicking, pushing, and throwing his head from side to side. The banging and clanging of the stanchion echoed in the barn. The bull’s eyeballs bulged, his pupils dilated and snot spewed from his nostrils. He jerked his head up and to the side ripping the nose tongs from my hand. Dr. Schultz jumped back as the steel tongs flew past, grazing his forehead and knocking off his Cubs baseball cap.

“Damn Dr. Gross that was close. Can you grab him and hold him or should I let Don do it?”

I wasn’t making much of an impression on the man I hoped would offer me employment.

There was a six-foot long rope attached to one handle of the nose tongs. The rope passed through a hole in the other handle. When you pulled the rope tight, the rope was supposed to hold the tongs closed.

I grabbed the tongs and returned to the fray. Wrapping my left arm around the bull’s neck, I grasped his lower jaw and pulled my body into his head. He easily lifted my two hundred plus pounds off the ground but I held on while he did his best to shake me off. I replaced the tongs in his nostrils, clamping down hard. I slid my free hand down the rope keeping the tongs closed tight while I wrapped the rope twice around the steel bars on top of the stanchion. Putting all my weight into the effort, I pulled the bull’s head back up and to the side.

All we were doing was getting a blood sample for a brucellosis test. Don Gordon, Dr. Shultz’ technician, helped the dairy farm owner bring the milk cows into the barn and locked them, six at a time, into their stanchions. We finished thirty-five cows. The bull was last.

In 1960, Veterinary medicine was male dominated and macho. Patients had a monetary value and nobody expected veterinary care to exceed that value. Chemical restraint of animals was in its infancy. Choices of antibiotics were limited. Clients expected their veterinarian to be tough, wise, skilled and able to handle any animal, any disease or injury, and any situation. There were no board certified specialists and advertising in any form, except for a modest listing in the yellow pages of the phone book, was malpractice. In my class of sixty-five students, there were only three women. All but a few of my class came from agricultural backgrounds. Today’s veterinary school classes are 75-85% women and almost everyone comes from a suburban background.

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I kept the right side wheels of the low-slung 1957 Ford precariously balanced on the mound between the two deep ruts constituting the road into the ranch. The left side wheels made a new path. If the car fell into the deep ruts, I would lose an oil pan, or worse.

My still new bride let out a gasp and I slammed on the brakes. We were on the crest of the hill, the Jones’ place spread out before us.


“Oh Dave,” she sighed. “It’s so poor looking.”

The track ended in an acre of dirt yard. To the right the dilapidated barn struggled to maintain an upright position, a sturdy looking corral on the north wall of the barn seeming to hold it up. A windmill and stock tank were north of the corral. To the west, insolently weather beaten but standing proud and stark against the massive horizon was a two-story frame house. Patches of tenacious white paint clung to wind petrified siding. There were no trees. Brown prairie grass spread west and north while east and south were tan dirt mounds endlessly rearranged by the wind. Parked in front of the open barn door, the driver’s side door ajar, was John Jones’ 1949 Chevy pickup.

I eased the car down the hill into the yard. Kathy and Jenny came down the steps from the house, their blonde hair pulled back in identical ponytails. Ferdie raced around the corner of the house. Skipper, eyes focused, herding him.

“Look at Skipper running. Looks like she’s doing very well after her ordeal with the mowing machine,” I observed.

Rosalie patted me on the arm. Her first introduction to surgery had been helping me put Skipper back together.

“Don’t get the big head, you got lucky.”

Bent over in the doorway to the barn, John held the left hind leg of a bay gelding between his knees. He had a mouth full of horseshoe nails and held a horseshoe hammer in his right hand. He smiled around the nails and waved the hammer as I got out of the car and came around to open the door for Rosalie.

Kathy, the kids, and Skipper all came to the passenger side of the car. When I opened the door, our German Shepherd Mister forced his way out before Rosalie could move.

The two dogs performed the requisite sniffing of each other’s sites of identification. Mister circling stiffly, ears pointed forward, Skipper making quick, jerky movements. They circled each other three times, noses buried, then Skipper rushed off with Mister following, determined to keep her close.

“Honey”, I said, “this is Kathy and Ferdie and Jenny. Kathy, this is Rosalie.”

John finished with the horseshoe, dropped the horse’s leg, and came over to the car.

“And this is John,” I added.

Rosalie extended her hand. The rancher took it, pulled her in close, and gave her a hug.

“Welcome,” he said, “please feel you are with family here.”

If this sounds interesting, you can read all about the Jones family in my memoir; “Animals Don’t Blush”.

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We were living behind our veterinary hospital, under construction in Paradise Valley, outside Phoenix, in a house trailer. Our German shepherd, Mister, rose to his feet and took three steps to the door, the hair on his back bristling. Three sharp knocks announced a visitor. Rosalie, leaning back to balance the watermelon-size protrusion that was to be our firstborn, waddled forward. Mister positioned himself firmly between her and the door.

A hard-used woman dressed in dirty Levi cutoffs riding high on overly muscled thighs stood on the top of three wood steps to the door. She moved down two steps as Rosalie pushed the door open. The sweet/sour odor of unwashed armpits caused Rosalie to wrinkle her nose. The apparition’s face was leathery from too much sun, her hair a curly mop dyed jet black. She held her right hand behind her back.

Yes, may I help you?” Rosalie inquired.

The Vet here?”

“No, I’m sorry. He’s out on calls.”

“You recognize me?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“Thought you might, my picture’s been in both the Republic and Gazette. I was just acquitted for the murder of my girlfriend.”

“Oh.” Rosalie took a step back, Mister pushed forward.

“I’m a professional wrestler, Killer Amy, maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“No, I’m sorry, I haven’t.”

She brought her hand from behind her back, holding a chunk of skin covered with thick gray hair. Mister rumbled. She ignored him.

“I need to have the Vet tell me if this is human or not. I found it on my property. I don’t need more trouble. Will that dog attack?” Can I leave it with you?

“My husband should be back in an hour or so.”

The woman took a step up and extended the scalp, it smelled like meat left on the counter overnight by mistake. Mister rumbled louder and leaned against Rosalie forcing her back a step.

“I think it would be much better if you kept it in your possession until he can look at it.”

“Well, if you say so. You think he’ll be back in an hour?” She stepped back down as Mister growled again. “That dog’s pretty protective ain’t he?”

I was back from my calls and eating lunch when she returned. I went outside to examine the scalp.

“Looks like jackrabbit, I doubt it’s human but I can’t say for sure. If I were you, I would take it to the police. They have labs that can identify human remains.”

I spotted her name in the newspaper, the sports page, two weeks later a story about her winning a wrestling match.

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I was on a ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota to castrate fourteen wild stallions rounded up by a rancher friend, John, and two of his neighbors, brothers who were professional rodeo cowboys. They roped each of the wild horses from horseback, around the neck and hind legs then stretched them out. My friend John pulled them down to the ground by their tail then grabbed their head pulling it to his chest to control the animal while astride its neck. The brother on horseback who had roped the hind legs kept tension on them also controlling the patient.


I dismounted from the top rail of the corral with two buckets, one with instruments in water and disinfectant, the other with syringes and medications. The first testicle came off cleanly, although the horse grunted and struggled when I applied the emasculator. As I made the second cut the animal the cowboys had dubbed Pig-eye went berserk throwing John off his neck and almost got away from Ed who backed his horse up pulling Pig-eye through the dirt and dust by the hind legs. Ed’s brother quickly backed his horse to put back tension in the rope around Pig-eye’s neck.


When John went airborne, I retreated towards the fence, both buckets in hand. After everyone got back in position, I returned to the fray. I got the second testicle dissected and placed the emasculator. As I clamped down Pig-eye again came off the ground but that time I kept my hold on the emasculator as it tore off the spermatic cord and I joined John sitting on our butts in the dirt. After the brothers regained control John and I rejoined the action, John bit down on the Pig-eye’s ear while holding the horse’s head up against his chest. I leaned over to get a look. Blood was spurting out of the wound, forming a red pudding in the powdered dirt.


“#@$%^&,” I exclaimed! “He’s bleeding like a stuck pig. Hold onto him, I have to go fishing for that artery.”

I found one of the hemostats in the bucket, leaned over, opened up the wound with my left hand, and reached in as far as I could. After three tries, I found the cord, pulled it out far enough to see what I was doing and clamped it with the hemostat. The bleeding stopped. While hunting for the second hemostat in the bucket, now full of dirty, bloody water, I cut my thumb on the scalpel blade. I finally isolated the spermatic artery and clamped it.


John nodded that he understood the danger I was in leaning over the horse’s back and bit down harder on Pig-eye’s ear and blood from the ear oozed out of the corners of John’s mouth.


I shook my head, reached into my shirt pocket with my left hand and extracted a packet of catgut. Ripping the packet open with my teeth, I tied a tight ligature around the artery and removed the hemostats. Pig-eye struggled but there were only a few drops of blood. I rinsed off my hands, filled the syringe and administered the antibiotics.


They released him and Pig-eye jumped to his feet, kicking out with both hind hooves. Blood dripped from the injured ear, now hanging at a ninety-degree angle from his head. Only a few drops of blood fell from his scrotum.


Remembering these events after fifty years I marvel at the apparent cruelty and disregard for the animals we displayed, but we had limited options. Local anesthetics were of no use in these wild animals. The tranquilizers and sedatives available then had little or no effect on excited animals. We had succinylcholine chloride, a muscle-paralyzing agent that immobilized a horse but could also cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles and left the animal conscious and able to perceive pain. Finally, we had a combination of chloral hydrate, pentobarbital and magnesium chloride, called Equithesin. It had to be infused, to effect intravenously, an almost impossible task in an excited wild animal, and it left the animals anesthetized and immobilized for a couple of hours or more lying in a thick layer of dirt and manure.


Despite the romanticized tales of feral horses running free, these horses lead a difficult life. There are few natural predators of wild horses and the number of animals tends to multiply quickly resulting in overgrazing and the threat of starvation. Half of the foals are males so competition and fighting amongst the adult males accounts for a high rate of injuries that go untreated. The mustangs are subject to bad weather, drought, starvation, high parasite loads and injury. Compare this to a life of good care provided by humans who want to keep the animals healthy and working productively, or just functioning as pets.

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It was my first weekend on the job. The middle of June 1960 and I told my new boss that I would be happy to handle the Saturday calls and any emergencies that weekend.

I was on the last scheduled call of the day when Dick Mathes, our office manager/ receptionist/call scheduler, reached me on the mobile radio.

“John Jones is bringing in his cow dog, got caught by the mowing machine. His ranch is about thirty miles from here, in the badlands. He called about three so he should be here soon.”

A petite, young woman, blonde hair, dressed in clean but worn Levi’s, a denim shirt, and cowboy boots jumped to the ground from the passenger side of the pickup. She turned to lift down a young girl, her blonde hair almost white. An older boy, another towhead, jumped out unassisted.

The way the rancher carried the dog into the hospital told of his gentle nature. I noted his weathered face, thickly callused hands, and massive chest.     I held the door open and directed the Jones family into the exam room. Skipper, a two-year old Border collie bitch, black and white with wide set, expressive brown eyes thumped her tail on the stainless steel of the examination table.

Skipper raised her head, the rancher patted it and the dog lay back down on the table with a sigh. Both front legs and the left hind leg were lacerated, it appeared that metacarpal and metatarsal bones were broken. The upper portion of the left hind leg looked strange. When I palpated it the dog flinched. There was dried blood, dirt, and hair contaminating all the wounds.  I detailed all the damage to the family and explained what it would take to repair it.

“How much Doc?”

“Three dollars to put her to sleep, probably at least a hundred if we try to save her but here’s the deal, I’m new. I’m anxious to prove what I can do and I want the challenge of trying to save this dog,” I glanced at the two children. “It appears to me that Skipper is pretty special.”

The boy couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Please Dad,” then he clenched his mouth shut.

The little girl chimed in. “Yeah, pleath Dad, we have to.” She was missing front teeth.

The rancher sighed. “OK . . . you guys understand this means no Christmas or birthday gifts this year?”

I called my new bride and convinced her to come and help with the surgery. I needed a “go-fer” since I was all alone. Several hours later, we finished. Skipper had her fractured hind leg in a Thomas splint and both front legs in casts. The next morning she was frantically banging around in the cage, but calmed down immediately after I took her out to treat her. When I tried to put her back in the cage, she became frantic again. I finally realized she was a ranch dog that had probably never seen the inside of a house, let alone been in a cage.

She was happy as could be in a stall in the barn and there she stayed, content, for almost two weeks recovering. Then on a very hot evening, we left the barn door open for ventilation. Somehow, Skipper got out of the stall and was gone. While out on farm calls I searched the sides of the road for the next week and a half, hoping to see her, nothing. The Jones family also searched, put up posters, called into the radio. The radio station made numerous announcements about Skipper and the newspaper ran an article about her, nobody reported seeing her.

As I walked through the door to the clinic, the phone rang. It was John Jones announcing Skipper had arrived home, a thirty-mile trek on one good leg, the previous evening. He brought her in and I was able to repair the casts and Thomas splint and dress all her wounds. She was terribly thin but happy to see me and eventually made a full recovery.

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I extended my hand and the boy with red hair, a wide grin, no front teeth, and lots of freckles took it and pumped once up then down.

“What’s in the sack, Billy?” I asked.

The boy opened the top of the feed sack and showed me a small, shiny black animal with a stark white stripe the length of its back.

“Billy found the baby skunk and he wants to keep him for a pet. What do you think? If we de-scent him, will he make a good pet? I told him I don’t do that kind of surgery, but I was pretty sure you could handle it,” Dr. Schultz smiled.

I joined Dr. Schultz’ veterinary practice only two months previously, directly after veterinary school graduation. I thought I remembered the description of the procedure from a surgery class. I held out my hand and Billy handed me the sack.

“OK Billy, I’ll take good care of him. However,” I squatted directly in front of the boy, “a de-scented skunk is still a wild creature, not like a dog or cat. Do you understand? You will have to be careful around him when he grows up or he might bite you. Otherwise he will make a wonderful pet.”

“I’m going to do this out in the barn. If I nick one of his scent glands, it will stink up the whole hospital. Dick, have we got an old ice chest we can use for an anesthetic chamber?” I asked Dick Mathes, our technician.

Dr. Schultz and Dick followed me to the barn, Dick carrying a hard-used ice chest.

“You ever even seen one of these done,” asked Schultz?

“Nope,” I replied.

I poured ether onto a wad of cotton, dropped it into the ice chest, opened the sack, dropped the baby skunk into the chest and closed the lid. I listened carefully until the skunk stopped moving around, lifted the lid and gave the animal a poke. He didn’t move, but was breathing deeply and regularly, so far, so good.

“Dick, do you suppose you can find some plastic sandwich bags?”

“I expect so. What do you need them for?”

“We’ll need something to put the scent glands in.”


I took the anesthetized skunk out of the ice chest and arranged him on the surgical table, on his belly with his tail tied up over his back. I added ether to a cone designed for a small cat and placed it over the skunk’s muzzle then clipped the entire area around the anus and prepared the skin for surgery.

“Well, the glands are where they’re supposed to be at five and seven o’clock,” I said. “But he’s a she.”

I found the papilla on the right side, clamped it with a mosquito forceps and dissected the gland. To my surprise it peeled out whole, the duct held closed by the forceps.

“As soon as I remove the clamp you need to close up the baggie,” I told Dick.

I deposited the sac in the plastic sandwich bag that Dick held open for me. Only a whisper of scent escaped before the bag was sealed closed. The other sac also came out intact but when I tried to drop it into a second bag, it stuck to one of the jaws of the forceps. I gave the forceps a shake to flip it off. The gland missed the bag and landed directly on the left instep of my new rough-out boots. Skunk fragrance filled the barn. My eyes watered. Dr. Schultz and Dick beat a laughing retreat into the clinic slamming the door behind them.


I tried washing off the boots with the high-pressure hose we used to clean the barn but that did very little to abate the odor. Over the next two weeks, I washed them several times in tomato juice but whenever I walked into a restaurant, or some other warm place, people started sniffing and looking around, the boots were history.

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