This past week was pet appreciation week. I was wondering what to write about and it occurred to me that the animals in my life have shaped me into the veterinarian I am today. Growing up in northern Iowa on a hog-grain farm was the perfect place to start experiencing animals and their affect on my life. We had dogs, cats, a shetland pony, and hogs very early in my life. Each of them played a different role in my upbringing.
As a hog farmer’s daughter, I got involved in the early care of baby pigs. Once the piglets were born it was my brother and I’s job to help hold the pigs for their early iron shots and teeth trimming to protect the sows. Once we were old enough to do the processing ourselves it became our responsibility. My brother was 2 years younger than myself and we were the main caretakers of the piglets once they were born. We kept accurate records of how many live pigs each sow had and recorded the weight and medical data for the litters. If there were any “runts” in the litters we took them to a separate area and raised them on milk replacer. Any of those runts that survived we got the money for our own bank accounts when they were sold. I paid for a majority of my undergraduate education with those hog funds. I realized that I loved watching a runt grow and thrive because of my Tender Loving Care(TLC). I joined FFA and 4-H. My brother and I raised hogs to show. We did well in those circles and enjoyed being one another’s competition. I was part of the FFA meat judging team in high school and spent time in packing plants grading carcasses. Still enjoy selecting my meat at Fareway using the knowledge learned 40 years ago. As the County and District Pork Queen (Ambassador as they are now called), I traveled to California and promoted pork in grocery stores. FFA, 4-H, and being a Pork Ambassador really allowed me to be comfortable speaking in front of people. I realized that there is no such thing as a stranger…. just a friend you have not met yet.
My first pony was named Lars. My parents named their kids, Linda, Lori, Lonna, and Lee. My parents came up with a Norwegian name for our pony that started with “L” since we are 100% Norwegian. Lars was a stubborn shetland pony but extremely tolerant of us jumping on and off, sliding down his neck, or doing leap frog onto his back. We would stand on him. Lay on him. Dress him up with blankets and put flowers in his mane and tail. As long as he could eat grass he was happy. When I was older and wanted to ride him he attempted to find a low branch on a tree and run right under it. Being little I would just lay down on him and under the branch I would go. Often I would walk him down the lane and ride him back up since he would gallop on the way home. We got a few other horses by the time I was in Junior High. Lars was still with us but had retired to pasture pony. One day I came out to the pasture and found Lars had punctured his eye. I do not know to this day how he did it, but a call to the vet indicated he was blind in that eye. He would need to be treated with ointment and pain meds until healed. I took on that responsibility and marveled at the quick healing process. I realized that the pony did not care that he was blind in one eye. In his perspective he could still do everything he had been doing with 2 good eyes. He eventually moved to a home with younger children and lived out his final years there. I raised 2 foals before graduating from high school and realized that early intervention is important in the training of animals. I was able to deworm and vaccinate the horses and learn important facts about nutrition.
Cats and kittens were plenty on the farm. Growing up in the 70’s the profession of Veterinary Medicine was mostly focused on livestock. The spay/neuter programs were nonexistent in rural Iowa. We had kittens at least twice a year and I learned a lot about treating snotty nose and crusty eyed kittens. I was giving penicillin shots and treating eyes in an attempt to save my babies. I was attached to all of them and they all had names. I had my favorite mommas and they would hide the kittens in our large haymow. I was the only one that could find the kittens. I would go into the loft and meow like a cat and the mommas would come out from their hiding spots. I would then keep it a secret so only I knew where they were. As the kittens grew I would spend hours playing with them and watching them play. I remember a time my mom was frantically looking for me and eventually found me sleeping in the barn with cats and kittens laying all around me and on top of me. It is from these precious souls that I learned about the circle of life. With as many cats as we had, death was always a possibility. With the large farm equipment and trucks driving around the property, accidents were bound to happen. Every time I lost a cat or kitten I would bury them in a “pet cemetery.” My brother and I would make wooden crosses out of sticks or scraps of wood to place on the grave. We put rocks over the soil to reduce the opportunity of them being dug up by other critters. I loved them and they taught me that in life every soul has a time to live and a time to die.
We had dogs growing up on the farm. They were usually large dogs. Most were females and you guessed it…we got to experience puppies. We would find homes for most of the puppies rather quickly. The puppies got attention and affection so became great family farm dogs. Some of our dogs were working dogs but most were just happy friendly pets. We knew that if they roamed there was the possibility of them not coming home. Dogs off their own farm were a hazard to livestock and neighbors property. This gave me an education about the large responsibility of having a dog. The importance of training and caring for them. The need to groom them. I grew to love the happy spirit and unconditional love they had for every member of the family. I learned that when they got older and even doing the normal daily routines were difficult for them it was time to say goodbye. Watching them struggle was not in their best interest. I had the intelligence to know when to let them leave this earth and be at peace. Yes, there were tears. Yes, there was a realization that the one thing I could not do was make them young again. Yes, their only fault, they did not live long enough.
I have deeply loved my animals through the years. They have given me great joy and love. I appreciate all that they have taught me. They gave me a career that has served me and my family well for the last 32 years. They have raised my children and taught them to cherish their time with furry friends. These critters deserve our love and devotion because all they ever want is ours. I do so appreciate my pets.