As the communications officer for the UC Davis veterinary hospital, I write most of the articles about the animals we treat. However, I do so from a third person point of view and never step out from behind the curtain, so to speak. Until now, because of a dog named Harvey who represents so much of what’s great about the people with whom I work.
Harvey, a brindle-colored male boxer, came to us through the Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue. In short, they save lost, neglected and abandoned dogs and find them loving homes. And sometimes, you can add “abused” to that list of adjectives. Harvey was one of those dogs.
When Harvey was brought to us, it wasn’t clear how he sustained his injury, but it was clear he had a broken jaw, and was also malnourished. Once he was examined and radiographs and a CT scan were performed, it was clear the injury came from abuse. His body didn’t show signs of any other injuries that would be consistent with being hit by a car or another traumatic event. His jaw was broken on both sides.
I see thousands of animals pass through the hospital every year, but it never gets easier seeing the abused cases. We share their pain, and it takes an emotional toll on the faculty, staff and students. Veterinary medicine has a disproportionately high percentage of suicide amongst its professionals compared to other careers. There’s no putting a direct finger on why that is. Whatever the reason, it’s a matter that needs to be addressed more, and needs to change. The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine goes to great lengths to provide every resource possible for our team to cope with whatever problems we may be facing. That especially goes for our students, who are enduring possibly the most challenging four years of their lives.
One thing that helps us through these times, ironically, is the abused dogs themselves. While no one would blame Harvey for hating every single human on Earth for the rest of his life, he seems to have put the matter behind him and is as loveable a creature as you’ll ever meet. He has nothing but tail wags and kisses for everyone he encounters. We like to think that he knows we’re here to help him feel better, and that’s his way of thanking us. That’s his currency of payment.
Having been to the hospital on multiple occasions, Harvey knows his caretakers well. When Megan Loscar, an RVT in the Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service, came into the room and said his name while he was being examined, his ears perked up and he was having no more of that examination until he had a chance to give Megan some love. Their embrace was something Hollywood movie reunion scenes are made of. This is what our team is all about. The kind of people who remember the names of almost every patient they’ve treated – thousands of them, years later. The kind of people who take time out of their unbelievably busy day to stop and give a dog a minute of affection.
It’s overwhelming to see how loving these abused animals can be through all their pain and turmoil. Besides the broken jaw, Harvey also had a raw neck from a rope being tied around it that had embedded into his skin. It must have hurt every time he moved his head, but that didn’t stop him from nuzzling up to people.
To fix Harvey’s jaw, faculty members Drs. Frank Verstraete and Boaz Arzi, along with resident Dr. Sophie Döring, placed a titanium plate and screws to fuse his right mandibular, which was split in two. The plate and screws are part of a state-of-the-art oral surgery kit that only one other veterinary school in the country has. I was fortunate enough to sit-in on Harvey’s surgery. To see this team at work in the operating room is like watching a fine-tuned machine function. Each surgeon, anesthesiologist, and technician has specific tasks, and they perform them without missing a beat to make the surgery as safe and efficient as possible.
Leaving the OR, Harvey was immediately brought to the dentistry suite where an intraoral splint was placed in his mouth to fix his left mandibular fracture. Through the entire process, members of the Anesthesia/Critical Patient Care Service monitored Harvey and guided his anesthetic care, as they do for every patient who is under anesthesia. The hospital has nine board-certified veterinary anesthesiologists, as well as four resident veterinarians and several technicians, some of whom have the highest level of veterinary technician certification possible. These unsung heroes are the backbone of every successful surgery.
Harvey recovered well from anesthesia and was monitored overnight with supportive care – intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication. He was able to eat the next morning, so veterinarians were comfortable discharging him until he needed to revisit us in the coming weeks. Many at the hospital were enamored with Harvey. As with most rescued dogs, there was much chatter around the hospital about finding him a potential home with one of our own. What better place for these animals to be? So many members of the UC Davis team have joined the long list of veterinary professionals who offer their homes to their “homeless” patients. I’m guilty of it myself. How could I resist that cat two years ago who didn’t have anywhere to go? And he changed my life.
No one gets into veterinary medicine to get rich (cue the laugh track). We get into it because of dogs like Harvey. The 350 people I work with in the hospital want nothing more than to see every animal they treat leave here happy and healthy. They love animals more than you can imagine, and are determined to continue discovering new and innovative ways to help them. I feel fortunate and honored to be able to tell their stories.
About the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
The William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis—a unit of the #1 world ranked School of Veterinary Medicine—provides state-of-the-art clinical care while serving as the primary clinical teaching experience for DVM students and post graduate veterinarian residents. The VMTH treats more than 50,000 animals a year, ranging from cats and dogs to horses, cows and exotic species. To learn more about the VMTH, please go to www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vmth. Timely news updates can be received on its Facebook and Twitter pages.
By Rob Warren, UC Davis VMTH Communications & Marketing Officer