Life of veterinarian is about the little things

Pete Keesling

Some of you wrote me telling how your pet made an impact on your life. One reader asked me to repeat my story about our childhood kitty-cat, Murphy. She was larger than life to my brothers and sister and me. Smarter than any other feline, she could open doors and find her way inside the walls of our very old house. But more than anything, she changed our father into a devoted cat person. I first wrote about Murphy 17 years ago, when I talked with a 6th grade student about euthanasia. Here, once again, is that story…
Our local elementary school had its annual Career Day a few weeks ago and I spent some time telling students why I chose to be a veterinarian.
As usual, most kids were more interested in the deputy sheriff next to me as he passed out McGruff (the Crime Dog) stickers. One boy had somehow collected 20 of these which he proudly displayed over most of his body.
But each year at this event, a few students make the day special. Their eyes sparkle as they listen to what makes my job exciting. It’s the little things, I tell them. It’s the little things that make each day memorable.
This year, one student asked a tough question. She wanted to know how it felt to put an animal to sleep. She said she could never become a vet because she could never do such a thing. Her family had just lost their favorite kitty, Franco. Their veterinarian had euthanized him because of old age and all of this had been too sad for her. To her, a vet’s job would be too depressing. She had wanted to be an animal doctor, but now she knew she could never do it. Too many tears were shed for Franco; it was obvious she was still grieving.
The kid with all the McGruff stickers was keeping the rest of the group distracted, putting a few on his forehead and nose. So this young lady and I talked alone for a moment. I told her about Murphy, my childhood kitty who I thought would live forever. Murphy had spent part of her 19 years converting my father, who disliked cats, into a real cat lover. After all the kids left home for college or work, Murphy wanted someone to share a lap in the afternoon and a bed at night. My father became her reluctant partner. He told me how he repeatedly tossed “that darn cat” out of the bedroom, but she persistently snuck back in to sleep on his side of the bed. Murphy wouldn’t accept his rejection. And in time, she and Dad were inseparable friends. He wouldn’t admit to it. But he even put a pillow in his garage workshop for her. He treated her like a queen and she gave him undying devotion.
Age caught up with our cat, and she fell ill with cancer in her jaw. Her health was failing and Dad took her to the vet for treatment, only to find that there was nothing anyone could do to make her well. Faced with the decision all pet owners dread, my father telephoned me to ask about euthanasia.
I’ll never forget that phone call. We talked about all the funny things Murphy had done in her life. We laughed and we cried. And we agreed that there would never be another like her. Then Dad stopped for a moment and I could tell he was holding her as his voice faltered.
“I guess you could say this will be the kindest thing I ever did for this cat,” he said. “She shouldn’t have to live in pain.”
He knew what he had to do.
Dad took Murphy to the vet’s office where she died quietly with the same dignity she had carried in life. She deserved that. She had given my father so much love. Euthanasia was a gift to her to relieve her suffering.
The little girl and I smiled and blinked back a tear of shared grief. Her cat Franco had been a lot like Murphy. Dignified throughout his life and lucky to have lived with someone who would give him the gift of euthanasia at its end. No more suffering. No more pain.
The bell rang. Career Day was over and all the kids headed out the door to recess.
All but one, that is.
She turned before she left the room and gave me a hug. And once again I thought to myself: God, I love my job. It’s these little things.

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