SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 22, 2013

For vacationing veterinarians, animals are the main attraction

Vet Connection
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt

---- — During our vacation as I wandered into the vast, elaborate dog park nestled between the giant, towering red rock in Sedona, Ariz., sans a canine companion, I wondered if I was the only veterinarian who ends up doing something animal-oriented on vacation. My husband, Bart, and I looked a bit strange wandering into the park without our own dogs. We tend to gravitate to dog parks when we travel just to compare other parks to Salem’s and get ideas for what could be done to improve Salem’s dog park. As we wandered in, a nice couple with four whippets asked us why we did not have dogs. Going to a dog park without a dog is like going to a playground without a child — it’s very sketchy. After we explained our quest, we started chatting and learned that the woman had been a veterinary technician. Soon, I found myself standing in the sun in a stand of Arizona juniper and cedar trees with towering red rock on all sides talking shop while dogs of a dozen different breeds ran all about us.

The first Tuesday I was home, I talked to a fellow Rotarian who had just returned from an African safari in Tanzania. This trip is definitely on my bucket list, as I am a big Jane Goodall fan. Goodall’s extensive research on chimpanzees took place in Tanzania at the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve on Lake Tanganyika. Her two-book autobiography, “Africa in my Blood” and “Beyond Innocence,” is a series of letters written between her and her family, colleagues and husband over the years. It spans from the time she was about 7 years old through her years in Africa. These books, tattered and worn, preside in premium bookshelf space where I can reach for them and soak up a little bit of Goodall’s Africa whenever necessary. Goodall spoke at my veterinary school graduation. To most involved in wildlife preservation and animal behavior, she’s kind of a rock star.

My friend said one of the people on the trip was a local veterinarian who was on his 15th safari in Africa. After being super-jealous, I realized that this is a person who just loves animals and enjoys seeing them in the wild as much as possible. I could relate to the experience of getting out of the small exam room and into the expanse of nature where you can experience wildlife in its natural habitat. The joy and energy derived from seeing animals in the wild and primates playing and working in the wild as our ancient predecessors did is inspirational. Clearly, I’m not the only veterinarian chasing the animals and the natural world on my time off!

In the early years of Tufts University Veterinary School, our class was cooped up in some very small classrooms and a basement gross anatomy lab across from Tufts Medical Center in the very urban Theater District. If we stayed late dissecting in the lab, we made sure to walk home in groups swiftly past the Pussycat Lounge (this irony was not lost upon us) lest we be accosted by some of the local “characters,” to put it lightly.

Once a year, the city of Boston would get a cow out on the Common to re-create its use as a common grazing ground. Students would postulate that maybe that cow would be our only bovine experience during our four years at Tufts. The Boston mounted police were always a chance to get some close-up time with a horse. This was not vet school in Iowa! We took what we could get. In our junior year, we would move to the Grafton campus, where the large animals were plentiful and the pastures were, and still are, a bucolic scene.

Once a year, we had a chance to travel to another veterinary school for a student convention in March. Our sophomore year, a dozen of us rented a van and drove to Michigan for the convention. I will never forget how open the road seemed, how brilliant blue the sky was and how great it was to be traveling out of the city with fellow vet school classmates who had so much in common. When we arrived in Lansing, Mich., the air was crisp and the horizon stretched far into the distance with a fresh snow gleaming in the sun. A professor who hosted us in his home welcomed us. We toured the vet school, went to lectures and met vet students from all over the country. What I remember most about the trip is someone suggested we all go to the zoo. All 12 of us gave this idea thumbs-up and off we went. For veterinary students, it was an affordable safari and a great and memorable one at that.

I posted a couple of pictures of the Sedona dog park scene on my Facebook page. My classmate from vet school, now a boarded veterinary cardiologist, liked it on Facebook. George had been on our student trip to Michigan. He knew exactly what veterinarians do on vacation, and he thoroughly approved.

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Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem (www.creaturehealth.com). She is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Email your pet questions to docliz@creaturehealth.com. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”