On June 21, 1985, Bonnie and I were married. The next day we moved to Delphos to begin our new careers as veterinarians. With 40 years of education between us, we were eager to put all of that knowledge to use, and terrified it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t. Knowledge is something you can’t have too much of, and we quickly discovered it’s vital to learn new things every day, both about our jobs, and about life. I guess that’s why they call it practice.
Whenever one of these milestone anniversaries come around, I can’t help but recall another event which occurred four years before — my veterinary school admissions interview with Dr. Walter Venzke. He was a colleague of my dad, and I had known him since I was a little boy, but with the pressure of the interview and what seemed like my whole future at stake, I was one terrified 22-year-old kid.
So when he gave me an imposing look over the top of his glasses, and asked the first question in his legendary gravelly voice, I choked. I really don’t remember what I said, but I’m pretty sure “Um … Um … Uh,” wasn’t the worst part. Apparently, he didn’t hold my poor response against me, and I’ve always been grateful.
Still, whenever I think of his question, “So you think you want to be a veterinarian … Why?” I can’t help but wish for a do-over. But until I had an encounter a few days ago with a wonderful pet owner named Deb, I’m not sure I would have done it justice.
We’ve known Deb for quite some time now. When she first joined our veterinary hospital family, she had three dogs — Buckeye, Chopper and Rusty. Deb took exceptional care of them, veterinary-wise, as well as tending to their daily needs. We would frequently spot her around town, walking all three together.
Sadly, two of them, Buckeye and Rusty, passed away just months apart, leaving a huge hole in Deb’s heart. Not long after, our Saturday receptionist introduced Deb to a two-year-old Labrador-Golden Retriever mix named Mimi, who needed a new home. I’m certain it was love at first sight, for both of them.
A little over a year later, Chopper died at the age of 16, and Deb and Mimi became even closer. Time has a way of marching on, though, and Mimi too soon reached her senior years, complete with a diagnosis of diabetes.
That’s when Deb, the consummate pet owner, became the consummate caregiver. A person who takes on the care of a diabetic pet goes above and beyond. It truly becomes a job that requires a great deal of patience and dedication, and Deb was up to the task. For over three years, she carefully monitored Mimi’s diet, checked her urine glucose, and gave insulin injections twice a day. Unfortunately, one morning last week, Mimi’s time ran out and she died in our office before Deb could get there from work.
I was present in the exam room when Deb and her granddaughter, Jasmine, said good-bye to their beloved Mimi. I’ve known Jasmine since she was a little girl, but until I observed her comforting Deb, I hadn’t realized what a fine, young woman she had become, with the same compassion and love for animals as her grandma. Even though this was a profoundly sad and humbling moment, the love I witnessed made me appreciate how fortunate I was to have chosen this as my life’s work.
So Dr. Venzke, wherever you may be, if granted a second chance to answer your most important question, this is what I would say:
“I want to be a veterinarian to help nice people with their animals; to educate and aid them in any way I can to provide the best care possible; to be allowed at least a small role in their family’s life and have them ask ‘What is the best pet for my children?’; to watch those children grow to love animals, as well, and when they have children, to have them ask the same question all over again. I also want to have the compassion to comfort owners when they grieve the loss of a pet, and embrace their joy when they allow another into their heart. That’s why I want to be a veterinarian, Dr. Venzke. That’s why.”