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"Outside of a dog," Groucho Marx said, "a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark too read."
I thought about becoming a veterinarian. But I don't have what it takes, and it takes a lot.
Your veterinarian knows everything there is to know about the maintenance and repair of all kinds and ages of dogs and cats.
But that's not enough.
A veterinarian has to be able to tell a 6-year-old or a 60-year-old that their best friend didn't make it through surgery.
I couldn't do it.
Most of us have outlived a number of pets.
I have purchased, adopted, rescued, fed, housed and named chameleons, gerbils, turtles, fish, a cockatiel, a conure (parrot), a pigeon (bad idea) and two dachshunds.
There have been cremations, funerals and flushes, and it's always a Bad Day at Black Rock.
The expiration of a goldfish is one thing, and perhaps it's a beneficial learning experience about life and death when you are young.
However, the death of a dog or a cat is much more than that.
On the bright side of pet ownership, there are men and women who are trained and willing to help with the well-being of our pets.
And to do it with compassion.
My dachshund has a veterinarian exactly like that. His name is Dr. Bruce Bowman.
He opened his Highlands Ranch clinic in 1985, when Highlands Ranch was one of Denver's distant neighbors.
The pet care profession requires sacrifices that most of us would be unable to make.
The around-the-clock operations of one (great) boarding kennel in Watkins have essentially curtailed the free time of its owners.
At least my college students went home at night.
I think that 20 or 30 sleepover Smittys would be endearing in its way, but approximating a Tim Burton nightmare as well.
Dr. Bowman is always direct and thorough when he informs me about Smitty's conditions. The most impressive thing might be how well he communicates what needs to be done, and what my options are.
"Communication," he said, "can be the hardest part in medicine. We weren't trained in compassion.
"Sometimes the best surgeon is the worst in translating doctor-speak to humans."
Smitty had his teeth cleaned recently. It's a big deal for a dog, and I had to sign off on it.
He had some other work done at the same time. A growth was removed from one upper eyelid, along with a couple of benign bumps that belied his handsome exterior.
Of course, as the father, I worried about the dear fellow all day, until I picked him up.
He was fine. He ate some homework, drank a beverage, and took a long nap. Business as usual.
The day will come, because the day has come before, when I won't bring my friend back home.
Maybe he will take it upon himself, or I might have to rely upon Dr. Bowman. Or, better, one of those in-home services.
If I have the opportunity, that's what I will do. We'll listen to Saint-Saëns' "The Carnival of the Animals," Smitty's favorite, and I will read Dickens to him, like I do every night.
World Veterinary Day is Saturday, April 29. Let's paws to celebrate.
Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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