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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Castrating Rocket

One of my roles as a veterinarian is to teach the public about the care of animals as well as impart some facts about biology, physiology, anatomy, bacteriology, virology, pathology, zoonotic disease, and any other –ology that seems relevant to the moment. I enjoy sharing this knowledge mostly because it is near and dear to my heart, but I also like the feeling that I’m sharing something that will help people take the best care of their animals and have a greater appreciation for the life sciences.

Most of the time, my impromptu lectures are one-on-one, as I’m describing the formulation of granulation tissue to a horse owner whose equine companion has a healing flesh wound, or the concept of developing antiparasitic resistance to a goat farmer who is losing his herd to severe parasitism. This type of teaching environment suits me best, as I tend to be a little shy and reserved and not a huge fan of public speaking.

Occasionally, however, I am met with a bigger audience.

Take the case of Rocket. Rocket was a mini horse about two years old at the time of this story. Owned by some of my most favorite clients (some of the world’s nicest people), who owned a smallish boarding stable, Rocket on this day had an appointment with me for castration. One thing I should mention here is that these clients had lots of children. And it seemed like their children had lots of friends. And every one of these kids loved Rocket.

So, as I was setting up the surgery suite, which in this case was the barn aisle, I suddenly noticed a gathering of small people in my peripheral vision. Whispers of "what’s going on?" and "what’s that?" and "what is she doing?" were swirling around until I realized this moment was becoming an uber-teaching moment. I rose to the challenge.

Directing the kids to pull over some straw bales as seats, I explained that Rocket was having surgery. They all sat quietly and watched as I anesthetized Rocket and rolled him onto his back. As I began to make the first incision, I described what I was removing and, if they wanted, the kids were free to don some latex gloves. Then I started tossing testicles.

At first there were a few hysterical screams, but after admonishing words from the parents, the kids overcame their initial revulsion and curiosity got the best of them. Passing the first testicle around, the kids became more interested in the surgery. After a disagreement over who got to hold the testicle next, I assured them a second one was coming and seconds later, after another set of tight ligatures was placed, over my shoulder flew the second one.

One little girl was particularly interested and watching my every move with a keen eye. I love interacting with young people who aspire to be vets themselves and I remembered this kid was such an individual. I was explaining how it’s very important to remove both testicles and that sometimes, one testicle is much easier to remove than the other, but there are always two. Suddenly, the girl asked, "What if there’s a third one?"

I had to pause and ponder that question. A third testicle? I’ve never heard of such a thing. And then I just couldn’t stop laughing.

After the surgery was complete and I walked a groggy Rocket back to his stall to sleep off his sedation, I made sure all testicles (all two of them, that is) were accounted for and in the trash. One kid wanted to take one home but his parents quickly squelched that idea.

Rocket’s owners apologized profusely for the audience but I assured them it was perfect. In what other venue could I do what I love with a rapt audience and have a good chuckle at the end of it all? And this time, the public speaking didn’t even faze me.

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: Doc Savannah by Cayusa / via Flickr

Comments  9

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  • Teaching Moment
    01/11/2013 11:13am

    What a great story and a great teaching moment.

    I don't suppose you know if that little girl grew up to be a vet or at least doing something with the sciences?

  • 01/16/2013 12:54am

    That's a great question and I'm sorry to say that I don't know. I truly hope so, though, as the sincerity in her eyes was inspiring.

  • Smiling
    01/11/2013 10:59pm

    This one made me smile. I would have enjoyed asking the kids what they just watched and just why old Rocket lost his boosters. The answer would have been good.

  • 01/16/2013 12:55am

    That is hilarious! If only I were that witty in the heat of the moment.

  • 01/16/2013 02:28am

    Your article is great- You are hilarious, believe me. You're practicing in the D C area? If I get a cahnce I'll figure out how to contact you...great story about Rocket! Hope he's doing well.
    Stay well yourself.
    Larry Clayton

  • castrating rocket
    01/12/2013 01:24am

    I just want to say how much I like this blog. I find this fascinating. I am a city-raised guy who loves animals. I am a retired MD psychiatrist. I sometimes wish I had been a vet, as one is guaranteed a great class of patient. As for the owners,I am not so sure. I am an all-around animal lover, but in particular a cat person, and have been so all my life. I am fascinated by what goes on in the brains of these little half-wild creatures, as well as their large predator relatives.

    Best wishes for the new year

  • 01/16/2013 12:56am

    Thank you very much. I hope to keep this blog interesting for you. Happy 2013 to you, too.

  • What a refreshing view
    01/13/2013 12:38pm

    How refreshing to encounter a vet who is willing to teach, even to young children! All too often when I'm in the surgery theatre (I am a final year vet student), I am surrounded by surgeons who seem overly stressed and unwilling to communicate with the students- it can be intimidating to ask a question! Linda (becomingdolittle.blogspot.ie)

  • 01/16/2013 12:59am

    Educating clients is one of my favorite aspects of this job. I understand your frustrations as a 4th year vet student. I, too, remember certain instructors that appeared uninterested or unapproachable for questions. But please please please ask away. This is the best way to learn.

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