When I read the title 'How I Became A Vet'
, I didn't even consider that it could refer to 'veterans of war'. I thought it meant 'veterinarian'. I was right.
Published in The New Yorker on March 6, 2023, Rivka Galchen's essay talks about a woman who sees a lot of death in her job. She has worked in this veterinary clinic for 12 years. It has recently been bought over and implemented new protocols and management systems. And the bosses note internet reviews and complaints, and ratings of their staff.
The narrator appeared to be ill-suited to be working in a veterinary clinic that mostly handles emergency cases. She doesn't just have to deal with upset pet owners, she also has to deal with upset pet owners who give her below three-star reviews online. Her supervisor George told her that she has exceeded her allotment of bad reviews and she has to take two weeks of unpaid leave to attend sensitivity training and client-management skills, and even after that, her position with the clinic is not guaranteed.
In this story, the woman, who is the narrator, "recounts her experience, in the veterinary clinic where she works, of a cluster of dogs who have mysteriously all jumped off the same bridge over a creek—the suicide dogs, she calls them. She’s puzzled by this phenomenon, but she has more pressing concerns, since her job is slightly in danger."
The unusual number of 'suicide' cases of dogs jumping over the same bridge into a creek at the same spot, seemingly of their own volition — Ohio a beagle mix, Sushi a terrier mix, and Aggie an Irish wolfhound. She went to investigate the bridge and the creek. She had to investigate the mystery.
You may not believe it, and I may not tell anyone. I learned something about those dogs, and from those dogs. They were not hurrying away from this world. They were not pursuing death. They were not deranged. They were not even melancholy. There was a smell. I could not place it. It is because our nostrils are too small and too close together that our scent location is so weak. So I lay down flat on the damp earth, with my face tilted upward. I tried to be as quiet as possible. I closed my eyes and concentrated and imagined myself to be harmless, even wounded, and I tried very hard to be as if I could rely only on my sense of smell. I tried to locate that scent as precisely as I could, wishing my nostrils farther apart from each other. I did not succeed at that. But what I saw in the root system of a bankside oak tree, when I opened my eyes, was a collection of marbles, the marbles being eyes. What I saw, from down in the mud, was a crowd of minks. A family, most likely.
A family, most likely.
What had made those dogs jump was the scent of those minks. You might call that scent the scent of love. It had been an error that those dogs had made. But an error of the heart, my dad said to me, there in the mud. So a worthwhile error. We have to make our own rules and our own judgments and not curse ourselves or others for the way we arrived in this world. Also we need to build a higher railing on the bridge, or otherwise devise a way to spare these dogs from injury.
But in essence, this story has got nothing that much to do with dogs. It's not about the mystery of these dogs jumping off at the same spot along the bridge and into the creek. It's not quite about the narrator being fired from her job at the clinic. Sure, it impacts her sense of self-worth and a mid-career evaluation of her chosen vocation.
It's about the narrator her, her values and how she decides to treat patients and their owners. Sure, perhaps there's a bit of sensitivity lacking, but that has got nothing on her skills. The narrator's perception of life that has been shaped by a contentious and unhappy relationship with her father.
That is what I wanted to share with someone. I couldn’t tell my father, whom I often lied about—pretending that he loved me in a beautiful and flawless way. And that I loved him in a beautiful and flawless way. When I had last visited him, I found a piece of paper near his bed on which he had written three columns: Close Friends, O.K. Friends, and Not Friends. It was only eleven people or so, and half of them I didn’t know. There was too little that I knew about this man, who had at times yelled at me and at times asked me to finish my entire glass of milk and who had let me sleep with the baby goats when I was afraid. Have I fulfilled my duty of joy to him? There in the mud, I began to. Though I had been a veterinarian already for many years, that was when I became, in the eyes of the minks and myself, a true vet.