Monday, February 28, 2011

When the internet fails.

So I was Skyping with my husband tonight and he was telling me about his mother's boyfriend's 5-year-old lab with hip dysplasia. Apparently the dog is in a lot of pain and they told my husband to ask me about an OTC medication they could give to make her more comfortable. My husband, trying to be helpful, told them he remembered me saying something about giving ibuprofren.

Me: "NO!!!"

Husband: "What?!"

Me: "You remember me talking about it because it's BAD! Advil is extremely toxic in low doses for dogs!"

Husband: "Well, but they Googled it and found the dose..."

This is why the internet can be a very bad thing for pet owners. Yes, it can be a great resource, but there is also a lot of really horrible information out there that can be detrimental to your pet's health.

Apparently my husband and I also need to have a talk about how me being a vet student doesn't enable him to offer medical advice. I hope to hell that they haven't given that dog anything yet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why vets aren't behaviorists.

I have a common complaint with the veterinary medical field, and that complaint is our reluctance to call on specialists as often as our human medicine counterparts. Vets are pretty good about it when it comes to surgical matters, such as calling a cardiologist or osteologist for a particularly complicated surgical procedure. But when it comes to behavior, vets tend to consider themselves knowledgeable enough to educate their clients without consulting with or referring to a behaviorist. This annoys the crap out of me.

Behavior is not a topic that is stressed even remotely enough in veterinary student education, yet most vets - hell, most students - feel more than comfortable dispensing behavior advice. Often it's discredited, outdated information such as "The Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan's disgusting tactics, or simply just way off base, completely and utterly wrong.

Many vets have a background in dog training and feel that this establishes a level of knowledge that allows them to confidently give behavior advice, and to a certain extent I would agree. But again, only to an extent, and that is the extent of their knowledge, and most of them aren't very aware of where that line is. There is a difference between a dog trainer and an animal behaviorist. A dog trainer is trained, usually for a very brief period of time anywhere between a few weeks to a few months, and then they are certified to hold classes on very specific topics, such as potty-training, agility, etc. They typically hold on to the knowledge that they gained during that time period and don't keep up with the latest advancements in dog training/behavior very well. A behaviorist, on the other hand, has earned a Master's degree at the very least, oftentimes a PhD, after years of intense study and countless hours of research, pouring over the latest studies to be published and are up to date on the most recent advancements in animal behavior.

See the difference? And yet I have often seen dog trainers referring to themselves as behaviorists. Don't be fooled by them, and if your trainer claims to be a behaviorist, ask to see their degree. Don't be confused; a certification is not a degree, and having taken a six month training course doesn't compare to 2-4 years of grad school. That isn't to say that your dog trainer is completely untrustworthy, just to encourage you to be skeptical if yours claims to be a behavior expert. Many of them are knowledgeable about dog behavior as it pertains to topics that effect dog-owner or dog-dog interaction. Beyond that, see a behaviorist. Your vet will likely have a recommendation on hand if you ask.

This is all coming up after an experience I had at the beach earlier today where a few dogs were playing in the surf when another person arrived with a new dog. I have a background in working at a free-range, doggie daycare facility and also worked under a dog trainer who specialized in socialization, so I have some experience reading canine body language (note: I am not claiming to be a behaviorist, only that I have experience in this particular area of dog behavior). My focus immediately narrowed on the new dog, who was leaning forward, weight distributed onto his trunk and forelimbs, ears back and stiff, forehead tense, completely focused on the other dogs... In other words, this dog had the potential to become a big problem. His body language was screaming loud and clear, "I am WAY too interested in these other dogs, and not in a good way." I told my friend who I was swimming with, "He's going to be trouble."

Sure enough, several minutes later, he had his teeth sunk into the scruff of one of the other dogs while it howled bloody murder. Their owners tried to pull them apart but the aggressor dog was not letting go, and his body language indicated that he had no intention of doing so; his weight was forward, leaning into the fight the entire time. This was not a dog that bit out of fear because another dog spooked him. He was clearly the aggressor in this instance. The other dog was attempting to get away the entire time and only turned to snap at the aggressor dog a few times in a desperate attempt to shake him off.

To make matters worse, after separating him from the fight the owner of the aggressor dog then pinned him down in the sand for 1-2 minutes in a maneuver I strongly suspect she inherited from dear Mr. Millan. This does nothing but reinforce in the dog's mind that other dogs are associated with bad things and something to be feared.

Later I overheard both owners talking about how the dogs just needed to learn "how to respect boundaries" and "it wasn't a fight" and "if he really wanted to, he could have hurt him."

These people are clueless and a part of the problem with vet students today. You don't know what you're talking about. This was not a "boundary" issue. This was a dog that arrived on the beach looking for an altercation and started one at the first opportunity. If you're so naive to assume that if you hadn't of been there to separate them that it wouldn't have escalated into a full-blown fight, then I honestly don't know what to say to you.

(As a side note, I had the opportunity to study under and talk to some top notch animal behavior researchers as a student at Purdue University, one of whom was Dr. Andrew Luescher. Dr. Luescher is pretty well known as a parrot behavior expert, but he is also the director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue University and has an extensive background in dog behavior and training. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Luescher over lunch once and pick his brain about a number of topics, including dog training and the notorious "Dog Whisperer." He referred me to a piece I'd read before but hadn't realized he had authored about Cesar Milan courtesy of the National Geographic channel, which sent him the pilot tapes to sort of test the waters a bit before airing the show. Needless to say they went ahead and put the idiot on the air, anyway, despite what Dr. Luescher and many other animal behaviorists had to say.

Here it is, if you're interested:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Third world healthcare.

Today in Anatomy lab something happened that we've been repeatedly warned about since the beginning of the semester. At the very start of the first class we were reminded about the closed-toe shoe policy and why it's so important. We're handling surgical grade scalpels and occasionally when you're digging through layers of fat, your hands get slippery and you drop your tools; sometimes on your foot. In those circumstances it's best to have at least tennis shoes on, but preferably thick rubber boots. Crocs and ballerina slippers may look nicer or be more comfortable, and technically they meet the "closed-toe" requirement, but you wear them at your own risk.

Well, today a girl wearing ballerina flats dropped her scalpel on her foot and sure enough, the sucker stuck straight up like a tiny flagpole. She bled pretty heavily and went to the nurse's office to get patched up and was back in class 20 minutes later (cuz that's how vet students roll).

Later our professor told us that if the girl had required stitches she would have gotten a nasty shock at the local hospital; apparently they don't use a local anesthetic for routine sutures. I'm assuming you just stick a piece of leather between your teeth and bite down hard. I'm torn. On one hand, I hope I never require stitches while on this island. On the other hand, that's a great story that'll get me free drinks for the rest of my life. Particularly if it happens after 6th semester, when I'm able to do the sutures myself.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cultural differences.

I'm taking a break from studying to type up something that's been doing laps in the back of my mind since I got here, but I haven't had time to fully hash out and express.

During orientation week, a few things tipped me off that maybe I was a bit more prepared or suited to life on an island where over 90% of the population is black than some of my fellow classmates. One was during a talk by a faculty member who said, "For some of you, this might be your first time speaking with someone who is black." I leaned over to my orientation leader and asked, "Is that even possible?" Her wide-eyed nod conveyed more than words what some of her classmates must have been like when they first got here.

The next was during our walk from the bus stop in downtown Basseterre to the restaurant we would be eating at that night during Carnivale in full swing. As we walked past open-air vendors grilling up barbecue chicken and selling beer out of coolers, my inclination was to stop, grab a chicken leg and a cold one and chat. Our leader, however, seemed harried, almost panicked, and kept instructing us to walk quickly and stay together, don't make eye contact, don't respond when someone tries to talk to you. Now, as someone who was living in Indy during Black Expo 2010 when three people were shot during a gang dispute just blocks from where I live, the danger of the situation failed to impress me. But to some extent, I will own, she was correct. My own naivety and social personality could have landed me in a lot of trouble if I'd acted on my instinct to mingle. Carnivale is not a tourist-participation event and is very near and dear to the locals here as a unique part of their heritage. I likely would not have been welcome.

However, our leader didn't know that at the time, she found out by asking our bus driver the next day. All she knew at the time was that it was a loud, rowdy gathering of people who we didn't color coordinate with. And yeah, that has the potential for bad things to happen, sure. But, and this brings me to my point, I've been the only white person in a crowd of black people frequently in my life, and it just isn't as scary or dangerous as most white people fear.

I grew up in Marion, Indiana which if you ever get the chance to visit, don't do it. It's a boring, sleepy little city with nothing remarkable to claim. But what it does have is a remarkable amount of racial diversity. My graduating class of hundreds of seniors, if I had to guess, was at least 25% black. I'd say that's even a modest estimate. My best friend as a teenager was black and I spent a lot of time in her home, eating meals with her family, and going to clubs that played R&B and rap instead of pop or alternative rock like the rest of my peers. My first roommate in college was black and sitting on my bed watching weave get put into her hair by a girl from down the hall or going to parties with her where I was the only white person there was pretty common. At one such barbecue the host approached me and said, "I like you. Because you just showed up, white girl in a mess of black folks, and grabbed a plate of food and sat down like, 'I'm here.'" It made me realize how we can send messages without even intending to. No one likes to be treated like they're untrustworthy, and if you show up to a party (or in this case, a country) and find that you're in the minority and immediately clam up, you've just insulted everyone around you by implying that they are something to distrust and fear.

Years after that my husband and I moved to downtown Indianapolis, where once again we were a couple of the only white people in a predominantly black neighborhood. My white, suburban family and friends were afraid to come visit for fear of their car being broken into. My mother begged me not to walk from my car to my apartment building after dark. For the record, yes, my neighborhood can be dangerous. There are gang members present occasionally and we have observed some shady activity, but I have never felt unsafe. My neighbors are friendly. We greet one another, talk about the weather and other small talk just like you would in any suburb with homes starting at $120,000 and BMWs parked in the driveway.

I guess my point is, I didn't come down here with the mindset that black people were something "other" than me, so my acclimation as been a lot smoother than some people. This whole thing was tipped off by a friend asking me, "Is the Marriott the place to be?" when I told her of some plans of ours later this week. I thought about it for a second and replied, "It is if you want to be around other white people." As for myself, I'll take Spratnet in the "bad" part of town, some barbecue chicken and a cold Carib with reggae playing in the background just as happily.

(ETA: My mother was apparently upset that I may have inadvertently painted her as prejudiced in this entry. That wasn't my intention. What I wanted to point out is that friends and family members of mine have a heightened perception of the level of danger in my neighborhood that I believe is largely due to the fact that they are unaccustomed to spending time in an inner city, predominantly minority-inhabited area. People in general are discomfited by the unknown and feel safer and more secure in situations that are familiar to them. What I was really trying to convey in this post was basically this: Chill out, white folks. I promise, the locals don't bite.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

First hurdle, cleared.

This past Monday was our first exam. It was in Microanatomy and Embryology, and it covered cytology, gametogenesis, early embryonic development and histology of connective tissue and muscle. This was it; the test that would set the tone for the rest of our lives, that would determine if we could hack vet school, if we'd make it through and go on to be future DVMs. We were all so anxious. Every single person around me was a bundle of nerves Monday morning. My hand was shaking as I filled out my scantron. Last night and this morning we were frantically refreshing our online grades webpage, desperate to know how we scored.

I got a 96%, which was the highest grade in my class. Looks like I'm gonna be okay.