Should you happen to find yourself among the thronging minions living for the possibility of one day getting into vet school—please don’t go to a veterinary conference for inspiration.

Should you, on the other hand, be one of those wandering souls feeling depressed that you never went to vet school—then perhaps a big conference is just the thing to assuage your misplaced sense of guilt over never having become a veterinarian.

Observing veterinarians in their natural habitat can be a bit disconcerting for those who have never had the pleasure.

I say this only half in jest. And that’s because, individually, vets are lovely people. As a massive body of conference attendees, however, one’s perspective is bound to change considerably.

Part of the problem is that veterinary conferences are often held in places where people have been known to behave badly. Las Vegas, San Francisco and New Orleans are among the most common destinations. Need I say more?

The conference I am attending this week with my boyfriend is in Orlando. And while you may not think of Orlando as haven for sin or den of iniquity, I’d most emphatically beg to differ:

First there’s the ubiquitous sin of the overpriced, over-seasoned, fatty foodstuff served (and consumed) in Cracker Barrel-style portions. Then there’s the pervasive draw of the whole Evil Empire (AKA, Disney) thing. It’s everything you ever wanted in American consumerism manicured down to the teeny little rows of perfectly planted flowers designed to discourage wayward strollers and anyone else not willing to stay perfectly in line with the ovine hordes.

Don’t get me wrong—Disney and Orlando are OK (in small doses). But there’s something about the mix of vets and certain tourist destinations that brings out the worst in both. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like the concept of being herded like sheep when I’m supposed to be in a professional environment. School was a little like that. But it was never like this:

  • Jockeying aggressively for position at the “Key West” restaurant maitre ‘d stand at the stroke of noon (amid the strains of too-loud Jimmy Bufffet music)
  • Literally running wild through the hotel lobby during a drug company-sponsored Golden retriever-themed treasure hunt (truth is stranger than fiction, I know)
  • Queuing up to have a photo taken with the Target dog (see mine)
  • Actively sucking up to the Hartz reps so they can score baseball caps with their [infamous] logo on it
  • Wearing inane outfits with as many mismatched T-shirts, shorts, bags and hats with drug company logos as they’ve managed to swindle from the exhibition hall floor on previous days and at previous conferences (you’d assume they were all poverty-stricken drug reps if you didn’t catch the prominent badge)
  • Getting drunk—anywhere—at the exact moment the conference lets out at the end of each day

Somehow I’ve sort of made it sound like fun. Maybe my meds are off and I’m feeling extra-dysphoric. Maybe it’s that my own vet friends aren’t here (they all live in the Northeast where I studied and rarely make it to Florida conferences). Maybe it’s because I get carded (mistaken for a vet’s straying trophy wife) every time I attempt to enter a lecture (in spite of the obligatory badge).

…or maybe it’s because I’m starting to like wearing logo-ed sweatshirts and all the cheesy exhibit hall contests that punctuate the somber lecture environment. Do I despise myself just a little for enjoying the spectacle of it all? Maybe just a tad.

After couple of days of acclimation to my natural habitat, I’m finally happy to say… “Baaaaaaa.”