My leftover steak has developed its own ecosystem. It smells like Beelzebub’s taint.
What is any ocean but a multitude of drops? — David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
During my first year of medical school, I had numerous opportunities to engage in service in the community. I volunteered at clinics, represented our school with a team of my peers in the Rebuilding Together program, and was an active member in PULSE. Unfortunately, due to the dramatic increase in my academic commitments this year, I have been unable to participate in as much service since completing my first year. I am currently a board member for the PULSE program, but have found little time outside of this to serve the community. However, rather than regale you with a woeful tale of my rigorous study and continued commitment to research, I have chosen to write about what I believe to be a far more interesting topic: cats.
Last fall, I volunteered at a free spay/neuter clinic at the Champaign County Humane Society. My duties were relatively simple. I was responsible for taking vitals on incoming cats and overseeing their recovery following the procedure. Now one might inquire as to why a student doctor would take time out of his busy schedule to wrap comatose cats in blankets and rub them until they regained consciousness. The obvious benefit was seeing hours of reddit-worthy cat antics as these brave felines emerged from the throes of their drug-induced twilight. But this was not the reason I chose to volunteer. Nor was it the opportunity to practice my auscultation skills on a generally uncooperative, and often quite vocal, patient population. Even the drastic improvement in my dexterity with a rectal thermometer served merely as an added bonus. Nay, my true motivation in participating was to do my part to combat the growing pet overpopulation problem that is currently gripping our nation.
Each year, approximately 8 million cats and dogs are taken in by shelters across the nation. Many of these animals find happy homes with caring humans to provide them with, love, affection, and much to the critters’ delight, food. However, about 3.7 million shelter animals are euthanized annually. That’s nearly half of all the animals brought in each year. Additionally, failing to spay/neuter your feline can contribute to the growing population of feral cats. Rough estimates of the number of feral cats in the U.S. vary, but are generally in the tens of millions. These cats can be found in nearly every setting, urban or rural, and are typically very difficult to tame and subsequently adopt out. As you can see, the problem of pet overpopulation is one that needs to be addressed before more of these animals die at the hands of a shelter veterinarian’s needle or as victims of the environment in their community. The only viable solution is a grassroots effort on the part of human societies and other similar organizations to raise awareness about pet overpopulation and to encourage all pet owners to get their animals spayed/neutered at a young age. And the overpopulation problem is only one of the many potential benefits of spaying/neutering your pet. Spaying your female cat prevents uterine infections as well as breast cancer, which has a 90% mortality rate. Likewise, neutering your male cat before he has reached six months of age prevents testicular cancer. Spaying and neutering can also have a positive impact on your pet’s behavior. Besides, unless you enjoy mopping up copious amounts of urine or find the sound of shrill cries soothing, nobody wants to deal with a cat in heat.
My experience at the free spay/neuter clinic was a rewarding one. Many of the pet owners who walked through the door had little to no knowledge about the benefits of spaying and neutering. Those that were already in favor of spaying/neutering their pet prior to arrival generally saw cost as an insurmountable obstacle. To be able to educate these pet owners about spaying and neutering while simultaneously providing them this service free of charge left me feeling as if I had truly changed lives, not only of the animals who went under the knife but of their respective owners as well. In addiction to this feeling of accomplishment, the experience also served to improve my ability to work as part of a team. Most of the volunteers were strangers prior to the event, yet we were able to band together and efficiently spay or neuter nearly 50 animals that day. Obviously the surgical procedure itself was conducted by a licensed veterinarian, but the multitude of ancillary tasks were just as vital to a successful clinic. In the end, effective communication, hard-working team members, and meticulous organization won the day.
To close, I would like to briefly discuss one of the negative aspects of the experience. Tragically, one of the male cats did not make it through recovery and passed away. We had a series of checks and balances in place to ensure something like this would not happen. Cats who were in recovery had to be swaddled in blankets and rubbed down to keep their body temperature up. Rectal temperatures were taken every five minutes and the cats were only allowed out of the recovery room once their temperature had reached a critical threshold. Unfortunately, despite following our protocol to a tee, one of the cats expired in his crate following recovery. As news of the death spread throughout the volunteers, we searched fervently for a reason for this tragedy. Even identification of a negligent volunteer would have been somehow preferable to accepting the fact that sometimes, bad things just happen. Yet when the logs were checked, it appeared that everything had been carried out properly during the victim’s recovery. Admittedly, I did not know this cat prior to his arrival at the clinic. For all I know, he could have been hanging around with the wrong crowd and spending his nights in a catnip den. But the thought of all the future purrs and laser pointer hunts that were snuffed out in an instant shook me to the core. This served as a sad reminder that sometimes, despite our best efforts, tragedy can strike. I’m sure there’s a take-home message relevant to my future medical career in there somewhere.
Am I the only one who finds Hector Lombard’s gnarly cauliflower ear kind of sexy?