Veterinary medicine is all about fostering the human animal bond. Classically, the family veterinarian maintains the human animal relationship by providing preventive health care and, occasionally, interventional medicine. As a surgeon, the relationship with clients is the inverse of that. I (Henri Bianucci) see patients when they are in need of immediate care for some unexpected problem.
For the vast majority, our relationship is defined by the beginning and the end of a problem. Clients often, jokingly, say at our final recheck visit, "it's been nice working with you, hopefully we will never see each other again."
It's a tremendously satisfying job, to be sure, and I would not trade it. But, it would be nice to have long-term involvement with our clients, and be able to see them enjoying their pet under more normal circumstances. I guess that's why, when Ed walked into my clinic with Casey, it was so touching.
This story began 14 years ago. When I started my practice, the bank provided a courier service and Ed was the courier. He was semi-retired and seemed to do the job to keep active and for the personal interactions.
He came to my clinic every day to pick up our deposits. However, I was never prepared for the daily pick-up. I told the bank that once a week was sufficient.
This didn't change his pattern at all. You see, Ed had an ulterior motive. He absolutely loved my old Labrador retriever, Cassie.
Her's was a story I have written about in this column. I adopted her when she was 14, and was rewarded with two of the best years I've ever spent with a dog.
It was the same thing, four out of five days a week. Ed would arrive, mid-morning, with his friendly exchange of pleasantries.
Then we would tell him, "We don't have a deposit ready today," and he would just brush that off and say "Where's my girl?" at which point Cassie would come lumbering out on her arthritic limbs to see him.
He would slip her a treat and pet her, really connect with her for a few minutes, then he'd say "OK, see you tomorrow."
On the morning that Cassie died, everyone in the office was in tears, but as mid-morning approached, we all anticipated, with dread, Ed's arrival. We knew he would be every bit as crushed as we were. When he arrived, we choked out the news. Ed didn't say a word, just turned and walked out.
After Cassie, Ed's visits were no longer daily, and about a year later he retired.
A couple of years later, I was driving to church with my family. In the warming, winter sunshine in a roadside field on Wadmalaw Island, we saw a beautiful black lab mix.
When he was in exactly the same position as we drove past on the way home, we realized there was a problem. I pulled over and approached. It was a young male, no tags or collar, and he made a half hearted attempt to flee. It was clear that he could not. He was about 40 yards from the road, and he had been hit, and that this was as far as he could drag himself.
A quick check revealed a fractured pelvis and some scrapes. As is often the case, the trip home was detoured to my office. X-rays confirmed what we already knew, but the news was better than it could have been. His bladder was intact, chest was fine, and his fractures could heal without surgery.
We hospitalized him and provided care and support while his injuries healed. He progressed rapidly both physically and emotionally. What had arrived at our clinic was a broken, painful and scared stray.
What emerged was a trusting, gentle and affectionate companion. One who thrived on the attention and love that was heaped upon him, and who returned it in full measure.
About this time we received a phone call from an old friend. It was Ed! We hadn't spoken for a long time and it was great to hear from him, but he was in a sad place. Ed's companion, a cocker spaniel, had died and left Ed heartbroken. He let us know he was thinking about getting another dog.
The timing could not have been better, nor could the match. Ed, who had formed such a special bond with Cassie, was now alone. Sitting in our kennel was a former stray who had been given a second chance and a taste of the love that people can offer. He was ready for a home and Ed had a hole in his big heart to be filled.
I said, "Ed, why don't you stop by and see this guy?" He did, and there was not a minute's hesitation on either part. The bond seemed almost immediate. They drove off together and it truly has been happily ever after. Ed called a couple of days later to say they were settling in nicely and he had named the dog Casey, in honor of Cassie.
Today, Ed stopped by the clinic with Casey. Its been 11 years since he adopted him, and Casey is a little heavier, a bit grey around the muzzle, and the eyes are just slightly cloudy.
What shines through from both of them, is that they have enjoyed a decade of friendship and love, and have a special bond. To look at them standing together, they each appear to be smiling with pride about the one they are standing next to.
What we saw lying in that field 11 years ago was so much more than an injured stray dog.
It was, as is every rescue, the start of a beautiful friendship.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.