Today I received two interesting phone calls: one was a prospective client recommended to me for an ear crop, the other, one for artificial insemination. Both services are easily within my reach. In fact, I dare say I perform these far better than most vets, having worked for a regional provider of both these services (and having had little choice but to undertake many of both services early in my career if I wanted a much-needed, newly-single-mothered paycheck).

We all do things we’re not so proud of at some point. The ear crops are where most my regrets lie. The reproductive work—not so much.

At least the repro work makes me far more adept at treating pathologies in this area, like the vaginitis, pyometra and prostate cases as well as the “omigod-she’s-pregnant-by-accident-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do!” situations. I also get the rare, responsible breeder-exhibitor who comes in with glorious show-dogs for surgical inseminations and the like.

Still, it seems useless to me that I know how to do things that I no longer want to do. The ear crops have an easy answer: “no.” I don’t care if that means someone less adept will perform them. I just won’t do them.

But the repro? Sure, why not…unless you [even remotely] strike me as a backyard breeder or a puppy mill. But these people don’t generally seek vet help, now, do they? At least these owners are seeking professional assistance—an obvious step in the right direction.

Beyond these two scenarios are many others I’d prefer not to get mixed up in. Like the exploratory surgeries a boarded surgeon should be doing, but that I can generally handle by myself, if absolutely necessary. Or the complicated internal medicine cases I’d prefer an internist handle but which fall in my lap for financial reasons.

Even a ginormous lipoma (fatty tumor) finds me begging a client to scrape up the resources, or to (please!) just plain leave it alone—if possible. Large-scale amputations and so-called “simple” bone pinnings are other points of contention—but I’ll do them. Why? Because I can do them for less than half the price of a specialist and not everyone has ready access to the kind of cash their rarefied ranks require.

Somehow, though, it’s all this would-be useless knowledge that makes me wonder: am I getting stupider because I don’t or won’t handle these cases routinely? Inevitably.

Yet sometimes I have cause to glory in the niche I’ve carved out for myself: that of the competent generalist. Today, for example, I detected a suspicious mass in a dog’s abdomen during a dentistry (one I would never have felt had this patient been awake). She’ll see the surgeon tomorrow for an ultrasound and exploratory.

It’s times like these that give me great pleasure just to be a lowly general practitioner with too much useless knowledge. We still have our role to play. Limited though it may be, I’m still required to be good at it.