Monday, September 30, 2013

Feral Cats: "No More Kittens For You"

I spent almost 5 hours on Sunday morning volunteering at a spay and neuter event organized by the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. During those 5 hours, I saw 82 feral cats in all imaginable colors and physical conditions. More than half were under 6 months. More than half were female. The average weight of the animals was 4 to 5 lbs (small). Many were covered with feces and urine from their panicked thrashing in the traps/cages. About half a dozen were under 8 weeks of age--they still got spayed or neutered anyway. There were large 8- and 9-pound toms, survivors and fighters ("no more kittens for you!" we'd cry out).

Of the 82 cats, one was euthanized and one had already been spayed but had a very large abdominal hernia that got fixed. That means that 80 cats total were desexed in just under five hours. There were three vets doing the spays and one doing the neuters; all were from clinics in the area. The FCCO has experienced workers who managed the order in which the animals were sent into the surgical truck so that the spay vets went from one cat to the next with sometimes only a minute or two between. Cat neuters (and dog neuters, usually) are done without sutures and even in a regular clinic they usually can be done in under 2 minutes. Shave, clean, slice open, squeeze, cut, tie a knot, push the cord back in, bam, you're done. Next! The spays are far more complicated but let's do some math: assume 60 female cats spayed in a total of 300 minutes; with three going at the same time, it comes out to about 15 minutes per cat.

There were volunteers who managed the trap distribution, intake, and reservations; all of this was set up many days before the event itself. The traps containing the cats were brought in by the people who fed or lived near the feral colonies. An FCCO worker was in one end of the surgical truck, isolated from the rest of us except for a small window. She did the initial ID and pre-op sedation (she jabbed them through the cages--she was really fast!). She then passed the cats through the window into the main part of the truck. The next set of volunteers (vet techs from local clinics) did ear clipping, flea treatment, ear mite treatment, aging, sexing, weighing, vaccinations, and pre-op shaving and cleaning. I was the medical recorder: I wrote down all of the data for each cat, logging what was done to it, making sure everything that was supposed to be done was indeed done, and noting any additional issues or observations. I also folded towels, drew vaccines, and tried to stay out of the way. There were volunteers who removed empty cages for cleaning, volunteers who transported cats from the surgical truck to the recovery area, and even more volunteers there who checked on the cats every few minutes. (The cats will stay in the cages for 24 hours and are then released back to their colonies.) There were volunteers manning an autoclave who cleaned and returned surgical instruments to the spay area every hour or so.

It was an impressive assembly line from top to bottom.

I asked one of the FCCO people if any studies had been done to determine if spay/neuter/vaxing prolonged the life of the feral cats, and she said, who would fund such a study? Still, a reasonable person could reasonably assume that these efforts must have some positive effect: reduced competition for resources, reduced incidence of disease, etc. Even so, I was surprised at her answer. For an organization that relies entirely on private donations, they surely have a better answer than that to give to their major donors!

The experience was sad and somehow uplifting at the same time. It was sad to see so many small, dirty, skinny cats passing from hand to hand, but the hands were caring and respectful.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Artist's Model?

I drove up to Portland on Sunday with the dogs to visit Anne and her dogs. She and I spent the morning at the open air market down by the river. Lots of very cool crafts as well as an assortment of kitschy junk to be found.

Despite having three large boxes of shipping-wrapped pictures and other art items in the back room that I haven't had the energy to do anything with, and despite chanting "no more artwork!" as we wandered around, I simply had to purchase this print (I got the cheap frame for it later):

I think you can see why!

The artist is Thomas Rude.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

No, not really that cold, but fall/winter weather has at last arrived in northwestern Oregon after what seemed to be an interminable hot, dry summer. It's been cool and rainy for a few days now.

The small propane gas stove that is the source of heat in the house has started up after months of idling. Even so, I've had to haul out extra blankets for us all.

Here's a photo of Azza and Harry napping in front of the stove, the warmest spot in the house. I know pink isn't the manliest of colors but it suits Harry well.

It seems that I can't get enough pics of sleeping dogs. There's something so relaxing about watching them nap.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

First Day of School

As a child, I always looked forward to the first day of school. Simply making the annual trip to buy school supplies the week or so beforehand was enough to send me over the edge with excitement.

Well, it's that time of year again. I'm can't say I'm beside myself with anticipation, but I am looking forward to returning to class on Monday.

I've got a full schedule this quarter: French, Biochemistry (a pre-vet weedout class, I've been told), Animal Nutrition, and Animal Breeding and Genetics. While the latter two are focused on industrial applications, I'm sure I'll learn valuable things.

Because of my interest in spending a year outside of the US during vet school and perhaps even an international internship after vet school, I intend to keep up with the French. Being reasonably fluent in another language will help me with these goals. I took a placement exam earlier this summer and tested out at the third-year level. However, I felt my conversational skills are far weaker than my grammar and vocabulary so I am starting a three-quarter second-year sequence for the language.

Textbooks are rather pricey, as science texts have always been, but I buy used ones if I can, as I always have done. I am perfectly willing to search through dozens of used books until I find one that looks least used. Sort of sad, really, because that means its prior owner didn't use it--didn't do readings or homework, didn't flip back and forth through chapters to study for an exam, didn't regularly cart it around in a backpack. A textbook that has been used to learn and explore looks pretty beat by the end of 10 or 12 weeks. Plus I write in books. Always have. All kinds of books. (While I like ebooks, I find not being able to jot notes and thoughts in the margins to be a bit frustrating.)

Going to university is quite expensive and it didn't make sense to me 30 years ago and doesn't make sense to me now that someone would waste time and money (somebody's money, not likely to be their own, and everybody else's time) by not going to class or even trying to learn something. But I suppose that even when I was 20 I was already a curmudgeon.

The campus this summer was rather underpopulated. I've been down there a couple of times in the past week or so to get my textbooks and supplies (how exciting! school supplies!) and the influx of thousands of painfully young men and women is a bit overwhelming.

But I'm ready. I've got notebooks for each class. I've got plenty of lead for my beloved mechanical pencils. I printed color coded schedules. I also downloaded my schedule to my various Apple devices. I printed a campus map highlighting the buildings that I need to be in this quarter. I even broke down and bought a student parking pass (they were offering a year-long deal if purchased online). I had my bike tuned up. I even bought two pairs of pants (new school clothes!) to wear instead of jeans (they are really jeans but they are colored). Laugh at me all you want. I am ready for the first day of school.

Happy Birthday, Mimi!

Quicksilver Let's Play House was born on September 1, 2005. Mimi turned 8 yrs old this month.

Like most females of a certain age, she has a couple of grey eyebrow hairs that stick straight out from her face.

But she's hardly begun to slow down or calm down, rising each morning as feisty and stubborn as a terrier should be.

She remains the undisputed queen bee of CircusK9.

Happy birthday, Mimi!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Getting Experience 5

This past week I drove down to Eugene to spend a day with an internal medicine veterinarian at a specialist referral clinic. She finished up with her clients and procedures early so I also got to observe a gall bladder removal surgery performed by a surgical specialist (more on that in a later post).

There is an odd, diffuse tension between specialists and general vets, which we can call GPs (for general practitioners). There are certainly differences in how these two groups of vets operate. I've been asking questions of both groups to try to understand this.

I've heard specialists dismiss what GPs do as not much more than giving vaccinations, treating fleas, and doing spays/neuters. Of course, those things do indeed form the bulk of the activities I've seen at the clinic that I have been shadowing at...because those things constitute the most basic forms of companion animal health care. It's not the activities themselves that the specialists get sniffy about, but the daily and somewhat unvarying repetition of these activities.

I asked one of the young vets in my shadow clinic why she was a GP. She said that she had intended to become an anaesthesia specialist, but while in vet school, she married and decided that going straight into practice instead of spending several more years in internships and residencies suited her and her family life better. Not a ringing endorsement of the GP track but certainly understandable.

I asked an eye specialist what the pros and cons were of her specialty. One of the cons was obvious: a specialist needs to be located in or near an urban area in order to have sufficient density of clients to make a living. But she also said that not getting to know her patients well was a con. She only sees them for special ailments and doesn't typically see multiple animals from the same client across years the way a GP in an established clinic might. A pro for her was that she simply loved what she did.

I am probably too old to become a specialist given the minimum 4-6 years of additional training beyond vet school required for most of them. However, it is interesting to explore these aspects of veterinary practice.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Boodle, the companion of my friend Moya in Dhahran, died a couple of days ago. His big, loving heart couldn't keep beating for him any longer.

He and Moya were one of my first private training experiments, and a highly successful one at that.

Boodle and Moya were our regular walking companions. Boodle and Harry made up the grumpy old man contingent, mostly content to watch the pummeling and racing from the sidelines.

Boodle and Moya were part of my agility "regulars". It took a lot of hot dogs and a bit of pushing, but he did learn to enjoy tunnels!

The jump chute challenge.

Going in!

Coming out! He is so pleased with himself!

Boodle loved digging deep, pointless holes in cool, damp sand, usually in Penny's backyard.

He guarded the communal water spigot.

Mr B barked at the gardeners up until the very end.

He will be missed. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013


One of the useful skills I picked up while in Saudi Arabia was how to manage home fermentation. I won't say that I am particularly good at it but I did enough experimentation there to get an idea of the ingredients and equipment needed, and of how the process should generally work.

A former resident or owner of the house I'm in now planted white grape vines (pernicious things) and a pear tree, among other interesting flora. I picked the pears over a month ago--apparently you have to put them into cold storage for weeks to ripen them, you can't pull a ripe pear from a pear tree--and harvested several pounds of grapes a few days ago.

The beauty of fermentation is that you can ferment just about anything that contains sufficient food for the yeast. And fortunately, yeast aren't that picky. Humans have probably been managing fermentation for thousands of years, probably at least as long as we have had containers or other ways to store fruit or grain.

I brought back 16 of the green glass bottles from Saudi, and my decanting equipment, but I needed some fermentation containers. You'll recall that I used a 20-liter plastic Coleman cooler for my primary and new 20-liter plastic water bottles for my secondary containers (I would even take them back with yeast sediment on the bottom to exchange for a new one). I figured that it was time for an upgrade, so I got some glass carboys at the local brew shop.

I decided to start with a small batch of pear wine--emphasis on small since I might end up with around three gallons of the stuff in the end. The pear mash (which I flavored with fresh grated ginger and black peppercorns) is settling in.

I haven't added the yeast yet. Most of the recipes I found for making wine from fresh fruit suggested letting the mash sit for a day or two before adding the yeast. (None of them said why to do this but perhaps it is to equalize the sugar in the solution or let the pH change or something.) Since I've only attempted whine from juice, it will be interesting to see how this experiment proceeds.

I could discover in a few weeks that I fermented up a couple of gallons of shite but that wouldn't be the first time. I've got several pounds of white grapes in the freezer waiting for round number two!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Canine Chaos

I drove up to Anne's in Portland yesterday afternoon for dinner (reluctantly dragging myself away from a palate fistula repair in an elderly dachshund's mouth at the clinic). I took my three dogs. Anne has three dogs. A friend from Utah was visiting her who had three dogs. Another friend from Portland joined us with one of her dogs. Lost count?

The role call:
  • Azza, 2 yr old desert dog
  • Mimi and Harry, 8 yr old and 15 yr old smooth fox terriers
  • Forrest, 10 yr old parson russell terrier
  • Skeeter, 4 yr old parson russell terrier (since she is matter and Mimi is anti-matter, their meeting would annihilate the universe so Skeeter isn't in the video below)
  • Rumble, 1.5 yr old aussi
  • Bender and Tolt, 6 mo old B&W BC pups
  • their dad, 10-ish yr old, and older brother, unknown age, also B&W BCs
Another way of looking at this chaos: four border collies, three terriers (four counting Skeeter), an aussie, and the desert dog. It was a seething mass of dogs.

It was a little bit rough with Azza at first because she was overwhelmed by all those dogs. Lots of cringing, whining vocalizations, teeth baring and snapping, and generally not very nice behavior on her part. She's also not had the best experiences with black dogs so that might have played into her fear. Thankfully, the BCs and the Aussie were all well adjusted and simply turned away from her instead of engaging or escalating.

We ended up dumping Azza and Skeeter, who get along very well, in a side yard. That turned out to be a Very Good Idea as those sorts of random decisions can be. While watching everything for 20 minutes or so, Azza was able to calm down and work out that none of those dogs had any interest in harming her and might in fact have some play potential.

After behaving badly in the intro, it took Azza quite some time to convince the other dogs to play with her. They'd look at her and think "you crazy, bitch" and walk away. She kept trying though, and she can be pretty persuasive. She avoided the older dogs and eventually had great success with the younger ones.

I can only say this about the video, which I unfortunately shot late in the evening: Harry seems to at last be doing great on the Adequan (he's the only one who's barking, too), and that's a lot of dogs!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Getting Experience 4

I've been shadowing at the same clinic now for a while and have gotten to know the techs and a couple of the doctors pretty well. One of the doctors in particular seems willing to spend some time with me, show me cool things (like what a normal canine prostate feels like), and answer my endless questions (I never ask half of the questions I have because it would be entirely too intrusive; the techs and vets have a job to do, after all). I am extremely grateful to her for this.

There's an odd line that one walks as a pre-vet shadow. You aren't a tech or a vet, and you spend far more time with the techs doing what can best be described as routine scut work. You see and hear things that sometimes even the vets don't know about, or don't bother about anymore. Vets had to do this scut work too, during their college training, internships, and residencies. But once that is behind them, most of them seem perfectly happy to let the techs do all that stuff. I figure you can't know how something is to be done properly unless you do it yourself so I am quite happy at the end of the day to clean cages, scrub exam room mats, and clean ear cones.

I keep a small notebook with me at all times and track my activities, which I transcribe later in a spreadsheet under the headings "performed" (vet-like things I actually did), "observed", and "additional learnings" (like not to say "ew" in front of a client).

I'm always very excited to record a "performed" activity (like a jugular blood draw or the prostate exam). Those don't come around very often because there are some very reasonable legal restrictions on what I, not an employee or certified specialist, can or should do.

Today I got to take down the history of a new client. The clinic uses a fairly clunky patient management system and I'm not authorized to use it. So I had to write everything down by hand then type it into the system later under someone else's ID. I was sort of nervous when the lead tech printed out the list of questions, handed it to me, and said, we are behind, go collect this info from that client who's been waiting far too long. But as soon as I stepped into the room, I slipped right into a familiar mindset. I had heard these same questions a dozen times or more, they weren't surprising. All those years marketing geoscience project proposals and those short but intense years teaching the dog classes while I was in Dhahran armed me perfectly for this sort of interaction. I realized I was nervous only because I was excited--excited that the lead tech trusted me enough to do this task and not screw it up (it was her client so all the info would be transcribed under her name). But I wasn't nervous about speaking to this young man about his dog.

I won't say I have the gift of gab. I am painfully socially awkward. But put me in the right context, and everything flows like water.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Shit Soup

I was rather proud of my poop disposal system for our new place here. Note the past tense.

I got one of those small rake and flat pan sets at the store and placed a plastic bucket out by the compost bin. Each week I fit the bucket with a recycled dog food bag and other plastic-bag-like object.

I scoop poop once a day, sometimes twice. Not because the dogs shit truckloads, but because they like to run around and play when they are outside and I'd rather scoop poop than clean it off the floors inside. I dump the turd collection into the bag-lined bucket. Cat litter box cleanings go in there too.

Once a week, on trash day, I slip the poop bucket liner into my household garbage bag. Since there was only a thin layer of plastic between me and several pounds of shit, I felt double bagging was prudent.

The system worked fabulously all summer. The unusual summer when it didn't rain for nearly four months.

On Thursday of last week, a storm rolled in decked out with thunder and lightening. It poured for 12 hours.

When I out the next morning, I discovered that I had made around a gallon of shit soup.

Clearly the system will need modification.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Getting Experience 3

There are a handful of items that one needs in order to apply to any vet school. The personal statement shouldn't be that hard for me to write. I think the hard part of that will be the thousand- or so-word limit (I rarely lack for words). Another is at least one letter of recommendation from a vet. That item goes hand in hand with the third one, documented experience in a vet-supervised setting. My only option for that right now is shadowing.

I need to have a minimum of 300 hours of this type of experience before I can begin my applications. Most schools don't specify the exact number of hours but there are unspoken, unwritten understandings of some minimum.

After two months, I have so far accumulated around 50 hours. The task seems daunting but I keep looking for opportunities to get more hours. For example, I will be volunteering at a mobile spay/neuter/vax clinic for feral cat colonies later this month. So, daunting, yes, but I thought, if I just keep chipping away...

Until I came across a rather unsettling bit of information from UC Davis. While this is a very fine vet school, it wasn't on my list of five that I plan to apply to for admission. Good thing, because UC Davis says the median number of hours of experience that their vet school applicants have is more than 3200. Damned overacheiving 4H'ers!

Daunting just became impossible. I simply can't compete on that basis. I can only hope that my personal background is compelling enough to make up for the difference.

It also confirms something that I have suspected, that at my current pace, I will be done with my catch-up course work months before I have accumulated enough shadow hours. Frustrating indeed.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Summer of Organic Chemistry 5: Done!

These past three weeks have been pretty hectic during the laboratory part of the organic chemistry sequence. There were pre-labs to write up (some of them took 3 hours just to write out the experimental procedures!), homework assignments, lab results to submit, a formal paper, the midterm, the final, and of course the labs themselves that had to be performed. And don't forget all those hours of lecture! I had to turn in something every day. The pace was exhausting.

The final exam was this morning. I went into it with an accumulated grade of 97 and aced the final, putting a very nice finish to the summer of organic chemistry.

In celebration, I took the dogs for a highly anticipated walk when I got home. We are all ready for a nap now.