D. E. Larsen, DVM
Louie and Virginia had been clients for the very early days of my practice in Sweet Home. Louie was a tall, lanky guy who had worked hard for most of his life. Virginia was the sweet side of the couple who kept Louie in line most of the time.
Louie told me once of their move from New Mexico to Oregon shortly after they were married. They first stopped in Roseburg for a short time before moving on to Sweet Home. That was a move that they never regretted.
They became real Sweet Home residents. Like Sandy and I, not lifelong, but very dedicated members of the community. And they were both regular visitors to the clinic.
Gigi was their current pet. She was mainly a poodle, and she went everywhere with Louie. For the most part, Louie was the one who would bring Gigi into the clinic for her routine visits.
The day was a nice early summer day in Western Oregon, with bright sunshine and moderate temperatures. This is the type of day that drives people outside. They often forget their appointments, even those made yesterday.
Summer league baseball and softball were in full swing at the local diamonds. Operated by the local association, it gave the town’s youth ample opportunity to play ball.
I had a farm call in the late afternoon, so I could escape the chaos of the clinic and enjoy the late afternoon. I noticed that the bleachers were full as I passed them out by Hawthorne school. I only had to vaccinate a couple of calves for brucellosis at a small backyard lot out on the end of Long Street.
Brucellosis vaccine had to be administered by a veterinarian. This was because the state needed a record of the vaccination. And because the vaccine could cause the disease in the person using the vaccine if not handled correctly.
The brucellosis vaccine in those years was called Strain Nineteen. It was an attenuated live bacteria vaccine. Its efficacy was debated, but it was at least seventy effective in preventing brucellosis in cattle. That was considered enough to provide herd immunity.
The other problem with the Strain Nineteen vaccine was that the vaccine could induce disease in man if mishandled. This usually occurred in young veterinarians who were not adequately acquainted with handling procedures.
The titer in vaccinated calves declined at a rate that they could test negative for the disease as an adult. This was important because, along with a vaccination program, we had a test a slaughter program. Cows that tested positive went to slaughter, and the herd they came from, and sometimes the entire county, would be quarantined.
It was after closing when I returned to the clinic, and everyone had left for the day. I was busy cleaning up the truck and equipment from the farm call when there was some loud knocking on the front door.
“Dammit,” I thought, “I will never make it home for dinner.”
I looked at the front door. There was Louie and Virginia with a very limp Gigi. I opened the door, and Louie rushed in, looking a little confused at where to go with Gigi. I pointed him to the surgery room.
“Doc, I think she’s dead, but I just wanted to have you check and make sure,” Louie said, almost a matter of factly, as he carefully laid her on the table.
“What happened?” I asked as I put an oxygen mask on her before starting an exam.
“We went out to watch our granddaughter play softball,” Virginia said. “It was such a great afternoon that we didn’t want to miss the opportunity.
“We had Gigi sitting between us,” Louie said. “This girl hits a foul ball that went really high. I could have caught it twenty years ago, but the sun was in my eyes, and my reflexes are not what they used to be.”
“That ball came down right between us and hit Gigi right on top of her head,” Virginia said. “What are the odds of that happening to a little dog perched between two big people.”
“I think it killed her right on the spot,” Louie said. “She hasn’t taken a breath since it happened. There was nothing to do. We just gathered her up and rushed down here. I didn’t want the girls to see her. They have enough to deal with these days.”
Sure enough, Gigi had no pulse and no response in her pupils. I turned off the oxygen.
“Unfortunately, Louie, I think you are right. She is dead, probably not a thing that could have been done to save her. It happens to ballplayers at times. That’s why they wear helmets nowadays.”
“What do we do now,” Virginia asked.
“I can take care of her for you,” I said. “We have several options. Cremation, either private or communal, or you can take her home to bury yourself.”
“This has been so sudden. Can we think about it for a day or two?” Louie asked.
“That is not a problem, Louie,” I said. “I can hold her for a week with no problem. You two have been through a lot in the last few minutes. You need to go home and relax. Check with us when you are ready.”
Leaving the clinic now was bittersweet. I would make it home for dinner, but the transaction with Louie and Virginia would wear on me for some time. What were the odds, indeed?
Photo by Noodles from Pexels