My First Cat, My First Dog: Biography of a Vet (Part 1)
For the next couple of entries I thought I might indulge myself with some biographical information on the typical veterinarian’s upbringing, using myself—ever the exhibitionist—as example.
In the beginning there was…Marsha: my first cat. According to Khuly family lore, she queened her kittens in my crib on the day of my birth, September 26th, 1968 (OK, don`t do the math). Exiled from her perch on my arrival, she regained her position overnight, methodically carrying each baby to my side and curling around us, her litter.
If my mother had been any other Cuban-American woman this might have been grounds for instant euthanasia via some colorful Cuban method. As a bizarre sort of Hispanic hippie (the kind that love nature and politics but don’t do the drugs or free love thing) she fostered this relationship between Marsha and her kittens (and I include myself, here).
So you could say I was raised a little like Tarzan…but in the Miami suburbs (Coconut Grove, to be precise), and by a cat, not by apes. It was apes, right? Wolves was that other myth…the Rome thing. So there are multiple precedents, then, for my auspicious beginning.
My first pup was named Mambrino (as in Don Quixote’s rival for the love of a prostitute). He was a beautiful Black Lab. A second Lab was not far behind. A female, she was aptly named Dulci Nea (after Cervantes` aforementioned woman of the night, of course).
This unholy alliance wreaked havoc on all manner of clothing and dirty, non-disposable diapers in our home. My brother, sister and I would finger-paint their glossy coats, build little dens for them with giant Tinker Toys , and generally loved them silly. We learned early to eschew cruelties (such as riding the dogs and feeding them noxious foods like worms and cockroaches) with the not-so-gentle guidance of our vegetarian, tree-hugging, bizarre version of a Cuban mother.
Somehow, among the three of us children, I was elected, "she-who-has-special-affinity for-the-animals." Perhaps this was an outgrowth of the cat-in-the-crib story, or simply a busy mother’s strategy for getting the pets fed. But who knows? My brother was the brainy one and my sister was the pretty one so perhaps I just seemed in need of a role.
It was then (around my fifth birthday or so) that I was presupposed to have inherited the veterinarian gene, though possibly none in my family had ever before retained the services of such a person (at this time, Cuban immigrants hadn’t commonly explored the animals-as-pets concept in their cultures, much less, the pets-as-family thing).
Regardless, I took on the mantle of designated animal lover in my household. My books became animal books, I was plied with stuffed animal friends, and it was imagined that the household pets were my confidants and preferred companions. My love for animals may have been truly innate (I’d like to think so) but you never really know.
So go the nature versus nurture arguments, musings on the genesis of ego and the likely origin of the concept of fate. To think what I might’ve turned into had I been labeled, "she-who-likes-to-play-with-small-dead-things.” Just call me lucky.