Life as a Veterinarian, Motherhood, Pet Care

Death Comes, Grief Follows

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As a veterinarian, I help clients say goodbye to beloved pets nearly every day. There are those geriatric pets whose age or disease has finally got the best of them. I say things like “They enjoyed a wonderful and long life.” “When we open our hearts to know their love, so do we open our hearts to the heartache of their departure” “It is our final gift to give to relieve their suffering.”

Then there are the tragic unexpected losses where you just try to hold them up while emotions of disbelief, guilt, rage, anger, among others wash over them. Perhaps they want comfort to know their pet went quickly and without pain. You assure them it isn’t fair, that it was chance or poor luck.


I have been awash in loss this past year. Expected loss of dogs from cancer and heart failure to the sudden losses due to tragedy or an undiscovered disease. I don’t know if one is better or worse than the other. With the terminal pets I felt waves of anticipatory grief. As much as I held on to the idea of “enjoying every day given” where there was joy in that day there was fear that this day was the end, that I didn’t know that moment would come and couldn’t control the end. Here I sat a veterinarian and I couldn’t save my own.

With each client I felt the need to take away the pain of grief and put in on my own back to bear so as to reliever their own suffering. I put myself in their shoes and felt my own losses, either those that had happened or those yet to come. I couldn’t go on in that way as a veterinarian helping. Instead I started thinking of grief as blanket and it was my job to hold a space for them, to wrap a blanket of understanding and support around them. I could share the grief but I could not shoulder it.  My quote of choice became: “Grief is the final act of love we have to give to those we have loved. Where there is great grief there as great love.” And then loss hit again today….and a wave of anger and grief once washed over me knocking me over.

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Maxx was a miracle, a PITA butthead, bully, and I loved to hate him. He would even spend time on kitty Prozac for his inappropriate marking behavior.

It was a typical afternoon at the clinic, when an older gentleman brought in an overly friendly overweight tabby cat with a thick red collar. Just 20 minutes after his exam and vaccines that tabby showed up at our strip-mall veterinary clinic doorstep in respiratory distress and vomiting blood. His owner couldn’t be found and we feared the worse. We couldn’t wait any longer and so radiographs revealed the problem- he had a diaphragmatic hernia…basically his diaphragm had torn and his abdominal contents including stomach and liver were in his chest threatening his life.

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The owner was located and couldn’t commit to the necessary surgery to save his life. Maxx had jumped out the car window on their departure. He could have ran under a car or to another business location but he seemed to beg for help by coming back to our doorstep. Maxx seemed a survivor and was owed the chance to prove it. I had him signed over and swore to do the best I could.

His breathing during surgery was provided by manual ventilation by a technician. Each breath provided by the careful squeezing of the reservoir bag, passing oxygen and anesthetic gases thru the tube in his trachea to inflate his lungs.  The diaphragm tear was found and I saw his beating heart and removed what didn’t belong in his chest. I sutured his thin torn diaphragm back together. And he survived…and recovered…and I couldn’t let him go so he became mine.

Maxx was really the worst…overly loving but on his terms, a food loving fatty I feared would become diabetic, a bully to the outdoor cats, and destroyer of my belonging with his potent urination. But I loved him.

So when he was gone for more than a day I feared the worse. Brad searched and found him…and since I had been texting for updates I got the call…and all the grief came back. I couldn’t handle another loss…just weeks after our beloved dog and months after other pets. I was pissed…I have clients that bring their cats in once a lifetime at the age of 18. I did everything for this cat. I saved his life…he beat the odds so why the hell now!

Nature is a cruel bitch! As I see the pastures come alive I know she brings life and beauty and she takes it away in one moment. Maxx had been attacked and the evidence suggested by a coyote. His wounds not survivable. I was fearful I won’t be able to find the answers I always need but when I saw him it wasn’t him…he was gone and this worthless body left behind.

And I said all the things I share to others…”You saved him. He had a great life. He loved the outdoors (He was strictly indoors initially but seemed to hate it and needed more. His first adventure outdoors I swept him up from under a bush after spending the entire 10 minutes he was outdoors convince he was acquiring feline leukemia virus). I don’t understand nature…I have the training to diagnosis, prescribe, and treat but in the end nature wins…she always does…whether it be when it seems right after a long full life or in tragedy we can’t understand.

I hold gratitude I have my family, children, and loved ones…that perhaps “He was just a cat. That she was just a dog.”. But my heart hurts and so once again death comes and grief follows.

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Motherhood, Ranch Life

Ingredients: 100% muddy puddle-loving kiddos. Tub wash warm. Mild detergent. Towel dry.


Spring time in the country is the best…baby animals, greening grass, and muddy puddles. I grew up in a small town where our yard was bordered by a cow pasture. My fondest memories involve crossing that barbed wire fence, ready and eager for adventure in nature. We would collect sticks, rocks and bits of nature to construct forts, hop in drainage ditch puddles, and marvel at the birds and even the found remains of creatures.


I follow the Pinterest boards titled “Sensory Play” full of bins with beans, rice, water beads, etc. Nature is the ultimate sensory bin- full of smells, sights, and sounds. Mud may well be the ultimate sensory media. The boys investigated the goopy mud first. Their little boots suctioned into the goop and I watched the look on their face change to determination as they muscled their legs free. This was sticky mud, as Caleb soon found out when he fell and had to be plucked free.


They then explored the puddles and watched as the mud swirled in the water, as it let free leaving their boots clean. There was a lot of splashing and running, exploring water depths and the sensation of water rising above their boot lines. Rocks were thrown and sticks used to stir.

The vet mom in me thinks of the millions of antigens they are being exposed to, all while hoping there aren’t any big bad bugs like E. coli or Salmonella floating around in that farm slurry they are enjoying. Plenty of studies have shown outdoor play and exposure to pets, farm animals, and just plain dirt builds stronger, healthier immune systems. If their little immune systems are too busy dealing with these antigens my hope is it will leave them alone and we can avoid issues like asthma.

With no concrete to blanket the ground and expanses of open areas to explore, farm and ranch kids have a wide world to discover and learn from. While research explains the benefits of outdoor play for kids, here are some of the benefits I see in my own kids:

  • Observational skills and awareness. My kiddos see and hear things I have looked away from or simply tuned out in the hurry of life. The other day, Caleb’s little face turned to the sky and his finger pointed searching for the object to match the sound he heard…the Canadian geese were making their return.
  • Engineering and building. Jacob’s imagination comes alive as he collects bits and pieces of nature and loose pieces from the ranch…building a sleigh, chute, alley, corrals, among others.
  • They develop their strength, balance, and risk assessment. Climb higher, run faster, giggle louder all while navigating obstacles. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul and sometimes I need to remind myself that after a rough week.
  • They get biology. They know where food comes from and how the animals lived. They know that potatoes get dug out of the ground, and the sun-ripened strawberries get plucked from the plant, and that the animals born this spring will provide us protein and nourishment when the time comes. They recognize animal tracks, the different grasses, and trees.
  • Compassion and reverence for those that live amongst us in nature. In nature there is life… and death. Brad had to assist a ewe this spring and Caleb’s anticipation was evident. When the wet lamb met the straw and started shaking his head, Caleb’s eyes were wide with excitement. But they have also known death and the missing of a pet or animal.


/no actual children or goats were driving a 4 wheeler!/

Do any of your favorite childhood memories include mud? I can recall more than a few times being hosed off before being let inside! I really want my kiddos to enjoy that same outdoor fun and adventure!


Continue reading “Ingredients: 100% muddy puddle-loving kiddos. Tub wash warm. Mild detergent. Towel dry.”

Ranch Life

Black Sheep

DSC_9170p.jpgWednesday morning we woke up to a surprise. Brad said, “One of the ewes gave birth to a Border Collie last night!”. So the kiddos and I quickly dressed, normally a 30-45 minute affair but miraculously we were out the door in less than 5 and headed to the barn…to find a black sheep or rather a spotted sheep.


The “Black Sheep” is an idiom used to describe an odd or unconventional member of the family and so this little guy is the odd one out. Jacob quickly looked to see if he was a ram lamb, knowing boys are likely sold. But how can you not fall in love with this odd looking creature that bares resemblance to Ripp.


The ram and ewe were white. His twin is white. White is preferentially selected for the ease of dying the wool. But sometimes recessive genetics just have to do what they do and you end up with a black sheep, or spotted sheep, or white sheep with a black spot, etc.

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He ventured out of the jugs today to meet the rest of the flock. More so than with any other lamb, the rest of the group quickly ran over to check this odd creature out. They stomped and sniffed, armed to defend themselves against something that is novel or different. Nature has conditioned them to guard against that which may be a threat but with a moment of investigation they quickly accepted the novel one as one of their own.

“Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how they quickly transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”  Wes Angelozzi

Lessons from the Sheep Barn



Motherhood, Ranch Life

I’d Rather Clean the Barn


It is no surprise to friends and family that house keeping is not my favorite activity. I look over at the toys strewn across the floor, which seem to have multiplied over the course of the day. The floor is like a mine field that with one wrong step will result in a broken ankle. The wash machine, a relic Craigslist find, is chugging along doing its best to keep up with the constant work requested of it today. I have unenthusiastically did dishes, laundry, scrubbed floors, tidied, sorted, repeated. My dream in life is a housekeeper but our location prevents that.


I would rather clean the barn and always have. In my college years, I worked at my university’s sheep unit. During my freshmen year, there were big changes and big emotions as there are for many of the fledgling birds leaving the nest. It was my place to find “home” and myself. I’d return from the barn aglow, eyes bright, and cheeks with pink flush brighter than any strawberry hued blush would provide. I loved the barn, being with the animals, the fresh clean air awakening me, my breath faster and harder, and my muscle feeling the burn of a day’s labor.


There is an appreciation for your efforts. As I spread the new straw the lambs investigate, sniff and chomp, their mamas looking on content to chew their cud. They buck, kick, and frolic thru the new golden straw more grateful than any of my kiddos are with fresh underwear or a clean plate.



And so it continues that my house is rarely BH&G ready and I need at least 24 hours notice before visits- unless you are in my inner circle of friends or family.  I would rather spend all day, any day cleaning the barn. You are invited to my barn any time!



Pet Care, Ranch Life

How to Name a Puppy

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As a veterinarian, I meet a lot of pets and so have lots of inspiration for naming…simple names, complicated names, funny names, names with sentiment.

There are the pet’s names inspired by looks…the Cocoas, Shadows, Reds.  Then the classics…Buddy, Max, Rover. Cats seem to demand the most creative names, maybe because they demand a title not a meager simple name so we see Prince Meowiwether the Third or Professor Snitchy. Owners seem to find inspiration from pop culture or Disney very commonly. You can tell when a Disney movie was popular based on the age of the 100s of pets named after the main characters. We might still see the rare geriatric Simba but we meet plenty of Elsas.

When we acquired our new little working Australian Shepherd puppy the task of finding a suitable name came front and center. Some families know the name of their new creature long before he comes home (as was the case for our human boy’s names) but in our house we must get to know the little furry creature- know his quirks, character, his purpose in this new life. We have a menagerie so naming is a common task. The job of naming of our most recent cats fell to a toddler learning his colors so we have “Black Cat/Penelope”, “Gray”, “Orange Cat”. We went thru a time of naming pets after up and coming children’s names. When we changed Roscoe’s name from Worthy, we departed that path as I felt no mother I knew would name their child Roscoe.

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Now naming a cow dog has its own rules. One syllable is best and it has to be a strong name. It is a “Call Name” and when it erupts from one’s lips it will elicit this little bundle of fur to fly across the barn or pasture, tongue flopping, eager to please his master’s next request. When this name is said everyone must know that this isn’t the name of a lap dog or mere bird dog, but the name of a cow/sheep working dog. His vocation will be know with the simple utterance of his name.

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So began the list of names and the requests for input. Many fine and suitable names came forth. For the first 24 hours, the little puppy was known as Jett. But his master didn’t feel this name was strong enough or suitable. Ripp was deemed a more suitable name for the little fluffy dog. But not to be said as “R-ip” but strongly and with intention “Ri-hipp”.

Jacob has struggled with the pronunciation of “Rs” so for the first part of the day it was “W-hip” and for myself I can’t stop singing “Rip, Rip It Off” to the annoyance of the master who found the most perfect name.

So meet Ripp, the 10 week old Australian Shepherd working dog, with a strong and suitable cow dog name!

Ripp (rip):

Noun: Old English: topographic name for someone who lived by a strip of woodland.


  1. Move forcefully and rapidly
  2. Tear or pull quickly or forcibly away from someone or something.


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