If you listened to the [horrible] audio on my decidedly amateur YouTube video attached to yesterday’s post on the Florida Black Bear, you may have heard me exclaim: “Veterinarians are the most resourceful...because we have to be.” 

I don’t know who it was I meant to compare veterinarians with, but my off-the cuff outcry was the result of a small success in that ultimately demoralizing day. Here’s the back-story:

Dr. Don Harris (a local exotic animal veterinarian) was having a hard time passing an endotracheal tube down the bear’s deep throat. The tube, through which we intended to supply gas anesthesia, was too flexible and the bear’s epiglottis (the opening of his windpipe) was too far down his massive mug (relative to a dog’s, that is). 

To solve the problem, he asked for a “stilette”--a stiff, curved guide for the floppy tube. But stilettes are not generally available for larger tubes in hospitals geared to dogs and cats. What to do with the 250-pound bear likely to wake up without gas?

Knowing this specialty hospital well, I quickly ran down a hall, snatched a white coat from a rack and re-emerged into the treatment area with one wire coat hanger...which was subsequently employed in the successful “tubing” of the bear.

Here's Dr. Harris using pliers to complete the stilette's home-made design:

I didn’t do much that day but I did play some interference with the media, I got surly with some Fish and Wildlife folks...and I found a great stilette for the endotracheal tube. It’s the little things, right? Pat pat...(the sound of a tiny back slapping moment).

Truth is, there are a million and one ways in which veterinarians have to be resourceful. After all, most surgical instruments, drugs and medical supplies are not specifically designed for animals. And animals are not always amenable to our ministrations. With that in mind, here are some common examples of veterinary ingenuity for your consideration:

Tranquilizing animals

I can’t even begin to explain how difficult the process of tranquilization can be when an animal is freaked out and/or pathologically aggressive. Because we don’t (can’t) use dart guns on smaller (owned and loved) animals, and because cages and leashes have their limitations, muzzling and/or cornering/trapping then injecting and/or gassing takes true skill and requires constant creativity. 

Ask any feral cat worker--they’ll know. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of medical care it’s our hands on the line. Towels, poles, brooms, flashlights, leashes, gauze, grates--all applied with a minimum of force and stress for diversion and close-up “darting.” It’s challenging, to say the least. 


Believe it or not, rolls and rolls of duct tape can come in very handy in radiology. Anesthetized animals are best X-rayed with no staff exposure to radiation. That’s when we tape the animals in place with the widest, stickiest tape available. Don’t worry, cat lovers; for felines, a thinner tape is applied. 

Bandages (and other avoidance measures)

This is where an animal’s wiliest instincts shine. Bandaging appendages and keeping pets away from sores, wounds and stitches is definitely more of an art than a science. It’s as much about animal behavior as it is about getting an area to heal. 

Sticky 3M tapes, home-made stirrups for minimized slippage, Superglue, splints made from household supplies (such as spoons) and syringe casings, E-collars fashioned from (or reinforced with) old X-ray films, needlepoint mesh for breathability and suturability, baby clothes, boxer shorts, diapers, velcro fasteners, pipe insulation, commercial adhesive solvents...need I go on?


In surgery, veterinarians need to come up with lots of neat tricks: human finger plates for Chihuahua bones, small crochet needles for passing suture through tiny holes, alternative uses for human-sized catheters and stainless-steel instruments, home-made hot water heating pads...I’m sure a veterinary surgeon would have lots more tips (I’ll add them later when I get a chance to speak to one).

I’ve done my best for the morning in more than 600 words...now it’s your turn...