Monday, November 27, 2017

The Accidental Veterinarian

I did not plan on becoming a veterinarian. In fact, when I was a child I was only dimly aware of what that was as we did not have any pets other than a gerbil, for whom professional medical care was honestly never a consideration. For many years I wanted to be a geographer or a historian at a university. Yes, I was a strange child. Then in high school my interest in animals and nature, which had always been there at some level, began to grow and I added research zoologist to the list. But veterinarian still wasn't on the radar.

My father was a practical man, and a man who had become cynical about academia. He was a physics professor at the University of Saskatchewan and he believed that academic jobs were becoming both increasingly scarce and increasingly unappealing due to university bureaucracy. Consequently he viewed my interest in pursuing an academic career in zoology, history or geography with growing apprehension. He was fond of the pithy German phrase, "Brotlose Kunst", which translates directly as "breadless art" - in other words a career or job that doesn't put bread on the table. He left the choice up to me, but made it clear that he recommended I pursue a profession instead.

I was a freakishly obedient teenager (mostly), so it came to pass that I spent a sunny Saturday afternoon in March of 1983, the year I graduated from high school, methodically going through the University of Saskatchewan's course calendar. The programs were listed alphabetically. I began eliminating them one by one - Agriculture (boring), Anthropology (Brotlose Kunst), Art (Brotlose Kunst)... and so on. As per the profered advice I paid particular attention to the professional colleges, but I steadily, inexorably, eliminated them all too - Dentistry (ha), Engineering (boring), Medicine (nope - sick people are gross) etc... I was comprehensively alarmed by the time I got to Theology (ha) as I had almost reached the end of alphabet without finding anything that made sense to me. There was only one program left. I turned the page and saw Veterinary Medicine written there.

Huh. Veterinary Medicine...

I couldn't think of a counter argument. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea became. This was essentially applied zoology! Moreover I reasoned that I had always liked dogs and cats, although I had never owned one...

In the impulsive way of 17 year olds I decided right then that, yes, this was Plan A. It also helped that the father of a girl I had a crush on was a professor at the vet college... But I knew absolutely nothing about the profession. I hadn't even read James Herriot. When I did find out more about it I began to waver (Herriot had the opposite effect on me than he did on most people) and completed a Biology degree first, but my faculty adviser echoed my father's advice - get a profession, go into veterinary medicine like you had planned. And so I did.

The great majority of my colleagues wanted to be veterinarians for as long as they could remember. In most cases they had to move a considerable distance to Saskatoon or Guelph to attend veterinary school. Their plan was clear and their commitment was strong. In contrast I still marvel at the accidental nature of my entry into the profession, a profession that has not only given me a wonderful career, but through which I met my wife and through which I moved to Winnipeg. What would have happened if the U of S hadn't offered Veterinary Medicine and the last entry in that course catalogue had been Theology...?

Some accidents are happy. This is one of them.

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