Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gratitude, Sixth-Grade Style

So, from time to time I am called upon to do educational programs at some of the local elementary and middle schools. I generally take some X-rays to be displayed on the overhead projector (I have quite a collection of old films rescued from th to-be-culled pile), and sometimes a bone plate or some bladder stones. I also bring a dog, since this is the real reason for the programs, at least so far as my audience is concerned. Generally I take either Finn or Kenzie as my demo dog, as both of them adore children beyond all reason. Each has their advantages; Kenzie, my Westie, is small and engaging and kissy and less likely to be threatening to little children who are fearful of dogs. In addition (if the desks are arranged in a ring) she can walk desktops full-circle, to the delight of the children in the room (both because there is a dog in school, and because it walked on the desk! On MY desk! IN SCHOOL!) Finn, one of my Border collies, is three times Kenzie's size, affording more space for little patting hands, and he knows some endearing tricks (in addition to which he's less likley to be overwhelmed by being completely mobbed by children, since he's not as short and doesn't feel quite so "buried" if they all swoop down on him at once.) He's also unfailingly cheerful and has the most stable temperament of all my dogs.

When it's the middle school, I usually take Finn; for some reason Kenzie is less comfortable in "big kid school", so I reserve her for the second-graders. Finn is an equal-opportunity ham, however, and happily goes wherever I take him, regardless of the age of the children.

Finn is also (in my 100% unbiased opinion) a very good-looking dog, and one who does not require grooming to look spiff (although in the photo above he's had his belly shaved for surgery - a story for another time.)

I do the school programs in part because I enjoy them; in part because I try to do some community-minded volunteer-type stuff (after all, I get a great deal from this community, so I feel it's only right to give something back); and in part, I admit, because I live for the thank-you notes. I adore the thank-you notes. They're dear and funny and sweet, full of gratitude and charm. I admit I find the spelling and grammar errors endearingly amusing; this may be because I am myself an indifferent speller, and I can relate. (I am deeply grateful for spell-check for this reason, as well as because I'm an iffy typist and mildly dyslexic, to boot. And you should all be grateful for it, too, most especially as it seems NOT TO BE WORKING for this post, so you're going to have to suffer my deficiencies this time around. You poor things.)

At any rate, after one such school program at one of the local middle schools, I received in due course and as usual a hefty packet of thank-you notes. There are two distinctly different piles, evidently reflecting the different tones of the two classes. I suspect (though there's probably no way to find out) that the more formal ones came from the class where the teacher reminded me of my high-school gym teacher... kind of blunt and direct and a little bit brusque, but sort of funny (to an adult, at least) as a result of her bluntness. She struck me as more of a disciplinarian and therefore perhaps less likely to encourage a lot of extra creativity in the students. The other group (wildly creative) I suspect to have come from the class taught by the sexy piratical guy, the one with the shaven head and the van dyke. Kind of an offbeat persona, which at least implies that he might encourage a more creative approach in the TY notes. But I could have that compeltely backwards, and there's no knowing.

Anyway, many of the notes came with drawings of dogs and cats and various other animals (some of the more ghoulish kids drawing several Frankenstein-esque gashes sutured with something heavy enough to tie down a small plane). One made a rather adorable little pop-up thank-you doggie inside, and a couple wrote my name in snakes or other animal shapes. One girl engineered her card (with staples) into the shape of a kite (although I initially took it for a paper airplane, til I opened it). And one enterprising lad wrote an entire poem to me (or maybe it's a commercial jingle). I'll try to hit the highlights (and despite my usual egregious typing, the spelling errors you are about to see are faithfully copied from the originals - mostly, at any rate)...

Dear, Dr.
I am listening to everybedy talk whale there supos to work. Now the teacher is talking. I listen when I am wrighting. [I rather like the introspective tone of this beginning.] I like the part when you told me what dog apered the most. Another part I like is the xray of the dog that ate the rocks. And how you get thame out. The job that I whoud whant is Chane Reactions. Chane Reactions is a julury stor whare you learn how to make beads, neckleses, braslets and shapes. [Presumably spelling isn't a big part of the job]. Thank you for telling me about vets and what they do. I hope I can see you ageane. I whish you where hear rigt now. [That's rather sweet, isn't it?] I whish you luck with the animals.

Dear Dr.
Thank you for coming to our class about your proffession. I thought that the little dog you brought in at the end was really cute. I thought some of those pictures of the dogs that had been hit by cars were perrty gross. [No photos - WAY too graphic. Instead, a couple of Xrays of broken legs, bladder stones, rock dogs, pregnant dogs, etc.] I think it would be interesting to work on a snow lepord. [This evidently in reference to me telling them about working on snow leopards (oops, I mean lepords), rhinos, bison, etc, at the Denver Zoo when I was a student].

Dear Dr.
Thank you for explaining your job to us. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the animals with broken bones and diseases. [This must be one of the ghoulish ones]. I especially liked your dog, I didn't get to touch it so I hope you can bring him again.

Dear Dr.
I thought it was weird how one of the dogs swallowed about 10 rocks. I was the one who guessed it. [I put up the Xrays and ask the kids what they think that is... I'm not sure it teaches them a lot about what it is to be a vet, but they really like it.] I think that if you like having dogs as pets you should get a canarie island bird dog. They are really nice becuase they always listen and they are very loyal. [Okay, this is the first time I've gotten advice on what breed I should own while doing one of the school programs. Clearly this child knows something I don't, since I've never heard of a Canary Island Bird dog. And if there's any breed on earth that always listens, I'm eager to learn more.]

Dear Dr.
Thank you for caming in and talking to us about your job as being a veteranarian. I think ispired alot of people. I think that you did a good job. [Ahhhh, my first rave review of the batch. Always nice to know you've performed well.]

Dear Dr.
I liked your prformens it was good. The best part about your prformes is that I diden't know that dogs would eat rocks. But I thought that all of the exrays were cool. I thought that the dog that got shot in the head and diden't even know wus the cooest. [TRUST me the dog knew when he got shot in the head. Even the densest, goofiest American Bulldog will tend to notice a thing like THAT.] Well, I won't to thank you again for comming in Thanks.

Dear Dr.
Thank you for comeing in to my class. I had a cat that had a broken leg. Your friend, Jess [I suspect this is one of the 2 kids who didn't get to tell me about his pet's injury/illness/visit to the vet during my 25-minute visit, since approximately 27 of his little classmates were doing so all at the same time.]

Now we come to the 'creative' batch, most of which were folded like cards, and many of which featured color drawings exhibiting various degrees of talent for color, form and gore.

To: Dr.
Thank you! [accompanied by a drawing of a dog with several Bandaids stuck to its head, a long incision on the neck apparantly closed with 30# test line, and (judging by the angle) a dislocated shoulder.] Inside is written: I'm glad you came. You showed us some x-rays and thanks for answering my questions about British Bulldogs
sincirly, Rory [underneath which is drawn a very stiff-looking dog all in black except for the end of its nose and its eye, which are white. The reason for the strange coloration is apparant in the caption, which reads "Full body cast".]

[On the front] THANKS [with grass, flowers, a biiiig sun, and a dog and a cat both apparently levitating above the flowers.]
[Inside] Rank roo rery much! Dr. Petit [I believe this is the Scooby Doo entry.] I think your job cool and I wold like to look into the job more because you make it look FUN! [All in blazing color.]

[On the front a picture of a dog through a window, which at first I took to be a little Harry Potter wizard dog because it looked like it was wearing a pointy hat. On closer inspection, however, it proved to be a dog with THREE Bandaids (two crossed in an X), a long scary incision with more of the heavy nylon rope-type sutures, and a bandage tied around its forehead, above which protrude the pointy ears, evidently glued together into a spike, which is what I mistook for the hat.] Dear Doc
[Inside] I am so glad that you came in because after I've lived all my life with animals I want to become a vet. The first time I wanted to be a vet was when I helped my mom save a lamb when I was in the forth grade. [Accompanied by a drawing of a dog covered from head to toe in an intricate crosshatching of bandages that would do a mummy proud. The only things not covered by the wrap are the muzzle, the eye, and the ears - again appearing to be glued together into that darn spike.]

Dear Mrs. Dr.
Thank you for comeing to our class! My favoret part was the exray's. Some day I might become a vetinairian. [Along with a vividly colored portrait of what appears to be a dachshund approaching a bonsai tree, possibly to urinate on it, based on the pose... or perhaps this is the one child in the class who noticed that Finn tried to claim one little boy as his own by urinating on his shoe. (Yikes.)]

[On the front, along with a drawing of a long-necked something that looks quite a bit like a llama] Dear D Thank you for coming!
[Inside, along with another sketch which I take to be an animal of some description, since it has four legs and a head with long pointy ears] Dear D thanke you for coming to our class. I learned somethings. I never new that dogs can get elphaseaha. [??? I *think* he means emphysema, which is the only thing I can come up with that comes even close; although I don't recall mentioning emphysema to them, I certainly might have done. I did say "testicles", after all, so I might have lost my head completely and said practically anything.]

[On the front, along with a head-on view of a cat with a VERY large nose - unless it's a tumor - and a dog which appears to be plugged into some sort of electrical device capable of making all its fur stand on end, not to mention producing a distinct look of alarm on its Crayola'd face.]
Thank you Keith A.
[Inside] Thank you for coming. If I need my gerbil worked on, I'll come to you. In the meanwhile, be carefull and have a good time. Sincerly, Keith A. P.S.: When handleing needles, don't pook yourself. [Sage advice, which I give you my word I ty to follow daily.]

Thank You Dr. [On the front, along with drawings apparently erased but still visible, of a muscle man hanging from the "o" on "you" - rather nicely done, actually - and a tree with what appears to be an orangutan in it, perched in the branches above what is either a small rhino or a really big warthog.]
[Inside] I reely liked the fact you have don surdry on a monky. [Here he must be again referring to my stint at the Denver Zoo, unless he has somehow gotten wind of that unfortunate encounter with Mickey Dolens and Davy Jones...]

Dear Dr.
Thank you for coming. It is a delight that you take time off work for us. I really enjoyed when you showed us the ex-rays. I think you changed my mind about a doctor. I'm going to be a vet. [Accompanied by a rather adorable drawing of a dog, although he does have little stars in his eyes which make him look like someone just cold-cocked him.]

And the piece de resistance (I hope I can do this one justice...)

On the front are drawings of a snake with a biiiig bulge in the middle, an apparently sneezy cat with (I kid you not) a box of tissues in its paws (clearly labelled, with one popped up out of the top), a dog with a ferocious grimace on its face and what looks like a Robert Jones bandage on its back leg, and small aquarium with three smiling fish in it. My little artiste has written "Thank You Dr.!" At the bottom of the page he's signed it "From: Jake". Inside, it goes like this (and I am NOT making this up):
If your cat is sick or your dog thinks he's a nick Call the VET!
If a snake swallows a ball or a pig takes a fall bring in your PET!
If your bunny is funny (hey, that's kind of punny) call the VET!
If your fish is almost a dish (while watchin' TV! (well, not the Omish!))[could he mean "The Comish"?] your pet's standards are MET!

Next to this is a hilarious picture of a snake (evidently the one that swallowed the ball, since it has a hugely distended middle) and a cartoon speech bubble saying "BURRRP!"

This was funny enough, but on re-reading it later for a second giggle, I happened to flip it over and on the back (where the Hallmark logo would be) he has written:
Protection Egenst (against) Total Ziffheads.
No animals were harmed in the making of this card.

I just howled. Partly I was pretty impressed with little Jake (whoever he might be - although I'm not at all certain what a Ziffhead is), and partly it reminded me of a card I made for my "little sib" in vet school.

There's s program in vet school where they assign all incoming freshmen a "big sib": an outgoing freshman who, having just finished the gruelling and scary first year is (one hopes) in a position to advise the new frosh about books, prof's, exams and so on. Traditionally, the big sib comes and leaves a card with words of encouragement or a small present on their little sib's desk just prior to the first exam, to loosen them up and give a little moral support before the scariest exam of first semester (and maybe of the entire program). On the morning of my first vet school exam, I got a card, a plateful of snickerdoodles, a new eraser, a new and freshly sharpened #2 pencil, and a petri dish full of M&Ms labelled (on lab tape) "M&M culture - eat on [whatever the exam date was]". I thought the M&M culture was a pretty good idea, so I shamelessly stole it for my little sibs (of which I had two). I also made little hand-drawn encouraging cards - a general one for the one I didn't know as well, but a more personal one for M, the sib I'd roomed with over the preceeding summer. I went to a bit more effort there since we were friends and she'd spent a lot of time with me AND my little vet-school sidekick dog, Merrik.

Inside her card I wrote something along the lines of, "You've worked. You've studied. You've come to recognise your classmates by smell alone. You are READY for this test. You can do this!" (and several other rah rah statements). On the back - unnoticed, I was told later, the first time around (shades of my go with Jake's card), I had drawn a picture of Merrik - a good likeness, if I say so myself, with her abundant curly/wiry terrier-mix fur and her big bat ears, and a pronounced squint on the right, where she'd lost the eye. Under this "logo" I wrote "HallMerrik: When you care enough to send the hairy pest." Evidently during the exam M was sitting and waiting for her turn at the microscope, killing time, so she idly picked up the card to read it again and just happened to flip it over. I gather she aspirated an unfortunate amount of coffee, and that some of her classmates were less than pleased to have her burst out laughing hysterically in the midst of the exam. Tight-asses.

So that's the best of the thank-you notes from that visit... but I assure you there are others, from other programs in other years and other schools. I'd like to say that they're from my little fans, but by far and away most of them are really from fans of my dogs. That seems fair; of the two of us - my dogs VS me - they really have the more difficult job; I get to live with them.... but they, poor things, have to live with me.


MaskedMan said...

Oh, Merrick was never a pest, surely..? ;-) I rather liked the fuzzy wee beastie.

MaskedMan said...

Oh, and grateful students pretty much rock - You're doing good things, and it's so sweet the effort they go to to tell you how they appreciate it!

AKDD said...

No. Merrik was the Best. Dog. EVER. But it was the only way to rhyme it with the actual Hallmark slogan ("Hallmark: When you care enough to send the very best.")

Yup. I love my TY notes. The second graders are even funnier, but I'll put those up later on....

1sheepdoggal said...

I know exactly what you mean and how you feel about your TY cards. Back home in UT I lived in a very small town, and owned the only pet store around for 200 plus miles. The local families treated my store like a local zoo, and brough the kids in just to see the critters and used the time like an outing of sorts. Too funny! I was always going to the schools, and bringing exotics to show. Lots of times teachers would call and say they were working in class learning about a certin country and could I bring animals from that country. I was always happy to. I really enjoyed it and the kids were always eager to listen, AND tell stories about their own pets too. I perfered the younger grades, 1st thru 5th. As I did a few high schools, I found that the younger kids were much more interested, and less rude than high schoolers. But Oh the TY cards! They were all just as you described!They drew pics of the exotics I would bring, and wrote cute little notes. I lived for those cards and would hang them in the store and the kids would/could come and see that I had put them up and drag their parents over to meet me like they'd known me all their lives. I miss that now, kids are so open minded and such sponges, it was fun.

Black Jack's Carol said...

It was great fun to read this, and all the more because I didn't have the responsibility of correcting spelling and grammar errors. (I teach full time music in an international school right now, but have done many semesters of English as well.) What a labor of love to have typed out all of those letters! I suspect, if you hadn't chosen veterinary medicine as a career, you would probably have been one of those teachers students remember fondly forever.

AKDD said...

1SDG, what a cool story. I bet the kids felt all famous and stuff, to go to your shop and see their work displayed for everyone. I love the kids when they're at those younger ages - so interested in everything (unlike later on, when their focus narrows down to being interested primarily in themselves, and maybe their hormones.) Sigh. Unfortunately, I remember THOSE days, myself. :p

BJC, thanks for that kind remark - I actually DO like to teach. It's one of the fun parts of my job. I sometimes fantasize about teaching coursesat the local college campus... in all my spare time....

Michelle said...

I found your blog by following your comment left on Diana Gabaldon's blog (I'm having a slow day at work, I'm not usually a blog stalker... :) and it was a real struggle to not burst out laughing at several points along the way down the page.
I now have a mental picture of you as a sort of modern-day 'Jane Herroit' - have you ever thought of writing your own book!?

AKDD said...

Michelle, thank you! (And no worries about following me from VotA - that's kosher.) :)

To answer your question, I have, actually, thought about compiling my little tales into something.... not quite sure how to do it, though. For instance, I like the essay format (the way the blog is written); but is there any market for books like that? Would there be a place for pictures in such a book, or is text alone the way to go? And how does one find an agent (since I think that's the first step), etc....?

Things to think about, anyway.

Glad you stopped by, and I hope you keep reading. I'll try to keep being entertaining! :)

Michelle said...

Ooh, definitely have pictures! Cute little pencil sketches of animals that look like they're about to trot off the page.
I wonder if you couldn't publish a book that's basically just blog entries printed off and bound? I'm actually kind of surprised that's not more of a "Big Thing". And then added art would make it more of a selling feature as well.
Anyway, I'll just keep checking your blog for now. :)

AKDD said...

Y'know, you're right that it seems like the hard-bound blog might have a niche in publishing. Not everyone wants to read things on-line, and there's something satisfying about the heft and feel of a book, and the way the pages smell....

Will have to give this some thought.

Marlies said...

I am one year behind in reading up on your blog - a great place to be at... I hope you keep writing so I can learn and giggle and be inspired on an ongoing basis. I am currently looking for a new vet for my BC/AS mix - just moved from Oregon to Sweden - too bad AK is so far away... (and you sound busy anyways).

Thought I leave a comment to share my appreciation. Kinda like a TY note... :) - (would it be cuter if I added some mizspelings?)

AKDD said...

Thanks, Marlies, and welcome aboard! If you lived in Alaska, we'd fit you in - but Sweden is a bit of a haul for a house-call. :D

Glad you're enjoying the blog (all the way from Sweden, wow!
Interesting move!) - and VERY cute thank-you note! :D