Although I’ve mentioned my black Lab mix Shadow before, I diverge from many large animal vets in that I do not bring my dog on farm calls with me. Shadow is, in human terms, an introvert and, in canine behavioral terms, fear aggressive. As such, she sometimes does not play well with others.
To illustrate this point, I’ll relate the one and only time Shadow accompanied me on a call.
Late on a Saturday night a few springs ago, I went to see a Standardbred foal with a fever that just would not break despite medication and TLC already given by the owner. Feeling sorry for myself driving alone in the truck on a moonless Saturday night, I invited Shadow to come along, much to her surprise and delight.
After cautiously climbing into the cab, Shadow sat in the passenger’s seat, snout out the window in the breeze. Everything was going great until we arrived at the farm.
Let me interject just for a moment to elaborate on Shadow’s temperament. Shadow does not like strangers, strange environments, strange noises, strange smells, or any strange feelings she may get from any of the above. Given that she was about to encounter a strange one of everything at this appointment, I recognize now that I wasn’t thinking clearly when I invited her in the first place.
As soon as I pulled up to the barn, the owner came out to greet me. At the sight of a stranger approaching the truck in the dark, Shadow exploded with a barrage of barks, snarls, and growls. As I closed the automatic window on the passenger side, I almost caught her nose. Then, as the owner came around to the driver’s side to avoid the snarling creature, Shadow decided to release her anal glands. In my truck. With me in it. With the windows closed.
Let me interject once more to explain canine anal glands for those unfamiliar. For some annoying evolutionary reason, dogs have glands located at their rear end. These glands contain a vile, horrible, brown liquid that smells so bad, it’s indescribable. Saying it smells like rotten fish covered in skunk is being conservative at best, but it at least gives you some idea of how dismayed I was to be in a closed vehicle at the time of anal gland ejection. Dogs sometimes express their anal glands when they are scared. Shadow has been known to do so at numerous scary points in her life, such as when my best friend comes to visit the house, the vacuum cleaner is running, or the pizza delivery person comes to the door — all very scary times, indeed.
I quickly found myself in the middle of a stink bomb of monumental proportions and leaped from the truck as fast as I could, coughing, sputtering, and seething. NEVER, I promised myself, would Shadow be invited for a ride-along again. EVER. However, the rest of the visit went without a hitch and the foal’s temperature was soon brought under control with IV fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication. Then Shadow and I were on our way back home.
I am a bit jealous of farm vets who own a dog that is actually reasonable during appointments, but I’ve seen plenty of calls that go wrong in spite of a reasonable canine companion. For example, the vet dog that wanders off to roll in fresh cow manure, or the vet dog that chases the client’s horse, or the vet dog that gets in a fight with the client’s dog, or the vet dog that almost gets left behind and at the last minute leaps into the truck … and reeks of skunk.
All of these situations arise from a dog, well, just being a dog, and it makes me wonder if really, shouldn’t these dogs just be left at the office? I’m sure not every client is ecstatic about a random canine wandering their farm, especially if there are young lambs, goat kids, or crias around. But on the other hand, the hours on the road can be long for a farm vet and if small animal clinics can have an “office cat,” well then why can’t I have my “truck dog”?
For now, at least, this debate is a moot point. Shadow is no longer invited on any calls with me. Let’s just say it took a really long time to get the smell out of my truck.
Dr. Anna O’Brien