Barefoot Vet - The Book

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Filling a Void

I took a rare vacation during my last year of vet school. During school breaks, I usually either worked (I was, after all, a nearly starving student), went to visit my folks in Santa Cruz (sometimes finding time to sneak down to the beach), or just hung out in Davis. Mostly, I just worked. Anticipating that vacation time would be hard to come by once I started a real job, I jumped at the chance to go camping with a few girlfriends during spring break. We were having unseasonably warm weather in early April, making sleeping outdoors sound almost fun. It also helped that camping is not very expensive.

Early Saturday morning, I left Sport, my two-year-old collie mix, with my good friends Pete and Doris, piled in the truck with the girls and headed to the Sierras. I thought I was being extremely adventurous. I was never a girl who always needed electricity for her hair dryer, but neither was I a forest ranger's dream woman. We drove about three hours to the trailhead and hiked a few miles through a gorgeous redwood forest that opened up to a stunning alpine lake at the base of the tallest peak in the area.

Jenny was the outdoorswoman of the group, so she pretty much set up both tents as the rest of us pretended to help. We did lend a hand collecting firewood that she turned into a terrific fire, which we sat around until late that night. Mostly, we reminisced about our soon to be completed veterinary training and our soon to start professional careers, but we might have snuck in a little discussion about men. Great hikes, relaxing by the lake and a quick dip in the freezing cold lake made for an awesome four days. Sadly, my memory of that trip is tinged with sadness.

The girls dropped me off around five Wednesday afternoon, so I immediately hopped in my truck and headed over to Pete and Doris's to pick up Sport. I got a weird feeling when she wasn't out in the yard, barking to greet me, but I figured she'd earned a pass into the house. If only that had been the case. It turns out that a day after I left on my trip, Pete was out front playing fetch with Sport Pete was throwing, Sport was fetching when Sport spied a rabbit and took off in pursuit. The rabbit dashed back and forth in the yard then headed toward the road. Before Pete could do more than yell, Sport followed it into the street and was hit by a passing car. I didn't hold Pete responsible for even a second, but I was crushed. It's impossible to describe how much I hurt. It still hurts to think about it. I was a vet student. I loved all animals. We had dogs when I was a kid, but Sport was the first pet that was "mine." I drowned my sorrows with two beers, which is two more than I had had the entire previous year. Even if I had been fit to drive, I couldn't bear the thought of going home to an empty house, so I stayed with Pete and Doris.

As days passed, the pain dulled slightly, but I still didn't like having an empty house to come home to each evening. I wanted another dog. My father knew that even before I got Sport I had been dreaming of owning a Newfoundland. He also knew that I couldn't afford to buy one. He called less than a week after Sport's death and asked how much a Newfoundland would cost. Through tears of sadness, at having lost Sport and frustration at not being able to afford a new dog, I told him, "Two hundred dollars." That's not a drop in the bucket today, but it was a lot back then. Dad then said he had two hundred dollars that he wanted to invest in a Newfoundland but he didn't want to have to keep the dog at his house would I keep it? What a nice way to give me the money for the dog. I'm sure you agree, I had a pretty special dad.

Even today, Newfoundlands aren't an overly common dog, so the search for my new companion began. After a disappointing week of searching the Davis and Sacramento area, I got a call from Doris, who was visiting her mom in Southern California. She had located a litter of Newfoundland puppies and had already found out that there were still two puppies available. I flew down the next day and came home with an eight-week-old Newfie puppy who I named Osa, Spanish for "bear." As I think about it, I'm not sure how a starving student who couldn't afford a dog managed to buy a round-trip ticket to Southern California! But PSA and Air California were the predecessors of Southwest Airlines, today's low-cost airline, so I imagine the airfare was pretty cheap.

Thelma Erikson, a vivacious mother of two, pregnant with number three, was the breeder who sold me Osa. When I spoke with her before flying down, she stated she was only selling the pups to homes with small children, but that she would make an exception for me. I'm not sure what Doris had told her, but I didn't care. I was getting my Newfoundland! Thelma kept track of Osa for all thirteen years that I owned her, and I'm quite sure she never regretted her decision to let one pup go to a home with no children. It was easy for her to check on Osa for the first three months I lived in Southern California where I got my first job as I lived with the Eriksons in what would soon be the baby's room. Thelma is still my very dear friend.

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