Friday, December 25, 2009

Saving The World

Ahh, the Holidays. As usual, not enough time to get everything done, but - also as usual - kind of fun anyway, what with it being all festive and stuff. And I hope you are all having a Merry Christmas, by the way.

To no one's surprise, we are having a white Christmas up here. It has, however, been quite warm (34 to 38 degrees); if not for the fact of a heavy snowfall last week we might NOT be having a white Christmas up here. However: the year has turned. The days are getting longer (by about 26 seconds a day right now, but hey - you take what you can get). I'd say the majority of Alaskans are observant of the solstices (and to a lesser degree the equinoxes) because the seasonal changes up here are so extreme. Hence for many of us, the winter holiday cluster starts on December 21st - my father's birthday, incidentally, and happy birthday to him - and ends on January second. I personally like to extend that to my own birthday, in late January, but while you're all welcome to join me in that, I don't insist that others collude with me in my celebratory delusions. Mostly.

This year for Christmas, two of my sisters got me a gift certificate to Global Giving, an organization which oversees about 800 charities. I get a little email notification and I think: Hmm, what's this? So I open it up and there is a little pile of money that I can give to any of the charities they oversee. All of a sudden I'm aaaall perky. Ooooh. It's winter solstice, a perfect time to start feeling festive and holiday-ish. I'm SO not waiting til Christmas. And moreover, I am shamelessly stealing this idea for my Christmas present to the Wildwood quartet.

Naturally - and here, put on your surprised faces - when spending my gift certificate I went to the section on charities involving animals. I know - who can believe that? Me, interested in animal things! Go figure. Still, odd as it is - or not - for me to be interested in things related to animals, I had SO much fun shopping for pet projects there (so to speak). I can't even tell you. In the end I divided my gift certificate up, trying to focus mainly on things that would provide a sustainable improvement. For instance, I gave money to a livestock guardian dog project in Africa, which provides dogs, puppy vaccines and training for the native farmers so that they can use dogs to protect their livestock (mainly from cheetahs, I understand). This benefits the livestock, obviously, since they're protected from predation. It also obviously benefits the farmers. But in addition it benefits the cheetahs, since the farmers will shoot any cheetah they see on their land, out of fear of predation on their livestock. If the cheetahs stay away, they stay alive.... and there aren't so many of them that we can afford to waste them.

There were lots of other projects that tempted me: ones where you can purchase or help purchase a goat for a family who can then breed the goat and sell or rear the offspring for future income, and dairy off the goat for food; ones where you can help bring sheep flocks up to dairy standard for income and food for the community; ones where you can invest in habitat recovery and education for local people so that they can encourage wildlife recovery and the economic benefit of the eco-tourism that comes with it. Lots of choices. And of course there are tons and tons of other, non-animal-related projects as well. But I'm happy with my little animal projects, because they dovetail nicely with my personal philosophy. My theory is that animals will save the world.

Chief Seattle said that if all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit. This is, in my opinion, unquestionably true. But there's more to it: If all the humans on the earth suddenly died, the world would go on. But if only we remained and all the animals died, the entire world would die. We are not so necessary to the ecology of the world. But without animals to pollinate, to sew seeds, to graze and fertilize the grasslands, entire ecosystems would die. We can't do these things for ourselves. We need them way more than they need us. And for all our intelligence and ability to manipulate the world around us, in the end I think it will be the simplicity of animals that is our salvation.

So it is somehow very satisfying to me to add my little financial nudges to projects that dovetail with my personal philosophy. I love the idea that somewhere out there a family is given a goat who will, by virtue of nothing more than being a goat, will give them a sustainable income. I love it that people are training guardian dogs who will - typically without direct contact - run predators away from livestock, preventing harm to both. I love that wild animals provide income to poor areas by their presence, rather than their absence. I love that these animals, just out there doing no more than being what they are.... one little piece at a time, they're out there, changing things. Saving the world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

So What, I'm Still A Rock Star

One day recently I am with a client in an exam room. As I am bent over his dog's ears, peering into their mysterious depths, he says, "Hey, I saw you in the grocery store the other day, but I was afraid to come say hi."

I look up at him in surprise.

"Afraid to?" I ask. "Was I looking excessively cranky or homicidal?"

"Well, no," he says. "It's just that I figure people probably come up to you and bug you all the time about their pets when you're out and about, and I didn't want to take advantage."

Well. What a thoughtful man.

"Well, thanks," I tell him. "I appreciate your consideration about that... but you can come say 'Hi' anytime - well, unless I'm having a giant fight with my boyfriend or something," I add with a grin. "And to be honest, you aren't the kind of client who takes advantage anyway, so don't worry about it. I hardly ever go anywhere without running into at least one client, so I'm kind of used to it. Most of the time it's not even embarrassing," I say, cheerfully.

"Now I want to hear about the ones where it is embarrassing," he says with a chuckle.

"Oh, trust me - you don't," I assure him, laughing. "I've had more conversations in restaurants with people about their dog's - um - personal habits than you want to hear about. For some reason that subject puts some people off their appetites, but luckily even the most graphic coversation about 'discharge' isn't enough to put me off my dinner. Still," I add wistfully, "it would be nice to be able to actually finish my dinner while it's still hot."

"People bug you while you're eating?" he asks incredulously.

"Oh, yeah... eating, shopping, at the gas station, in the locker room at the gym - although there you can usually bring it to a conclusion by getting into the shower - at the movies, over coffee - you name it. It's a small town and I've been in practice here for 15 years, so I pretty much count on seeing at least one client anywhere I go, sometimes three or four."

He nods thoughtfully. "You're like a rock star," he says, musingly.

"Yeah, except for all the glamor and the money," I agree, laughing. "Plus I think if you're a rock star you proably aren't talking about pus, mucus and diarrhea over your bagel. Just a hunch."

At any rate, it amused me that he thought of me in rock star terms. Nothing could be further from the truth, really... if not for the fact that this IS a small town - and I am one of a very small number of vets in the area - I'd be as anonymous as anyone else. I'm not on TV or in the paper - well, not very often, anyway - and my only in-print publications to date have been in professional magazines, which of necessity have a limited audience. What little notoriety I have is limited to a very small population and a very small geographic area. Ninety-eight percent of the time I truly don't mind when people accost me to discuss their pets - past, present or future - and I sort of enjoy seeing some of my clients in a non-clinical setting. Occasionally, I will admit, it's a tiny bit tedious. It's rare, but every once in a while you do have someone who is injudicious about taking up my non-work time, or who seems to have no sense of social timing. Ah, well. These things happen, and to some degree it comes with the territory. It's not so bad for me, in my little corner of the world. Rock stars and movie stars, though - they have to endure much more intrusion, all over the world, and for less important reasons. After all, it's one thing for someone to come up to me and say "I just wanted to thank you so much for helping my pet" (or me, or my family, or for volunteering your time, or what have you); it's not even a problem if they ask, "Say, Doc, my rabbit has his neck all twisted to the side. What d'you think it is? Should I bring him in?" It's another thing entirely to have someone fling themselves panting at you, attempting to yank out a lock of your hair or asking if they can have your baby.

For me, though, it's mostly related to my work, and not so much to weird fantasies people might be having about who they imagine I am based on a character I played three years ago. And if I really WERE a rock star, I'd be recognizable all over the dang place, and nowhere would be sacred.

At least so I was telling myself this weekend, all complacent, whilst standing in the bathroom at Costco in Anchorage. At home, a store that busy would be virtually guaranteed to contain at least one client, but I'd been peacefully shopping with my friends, Yvonne and Jan, for an hour without the slightest interruption. See? Not like a rock star at all. I'm a mere 60 miles from home, and no one here knows me; it takes next to no distance to outrun my public-recognition factor.

"Aren't you Dr. H?" someone to my left says suddenly.
"Er, yes - oh, I recognize you," I add. "Aren't you one of my clients?"
"Yes; when are you working? I have to bring my dogs in for shots," she says. I give her my work schedule, and she nods happily, promising to see me there within the week, and goes on about her business. Huh. That's unusual, I think, drying my hands.

"Hi, Dr. H, how are you?" pipes up another voice. I look behind me and there's another client, smiling and full of holiday cheer.

"Great, thanks, and you? How are the dogs?" I ask her.
"Oh, we're all fine, thanks," she says happily, wishing me a merry Christmas as my friend Yvonne stares at me, eyebows raised.

"I can't take you anywhere," she mutters to me, amused, as we exit the bathroom. "You're not even in your home town and clients are chasing you down." Well, okay, I admit it's a bit weird to be waylaid in a public restroom, but what are you going to do? It's odd, but so what? I'm still a rock star...

Except for that pus and mucus and diarrhea thing....