As a child, I aspired to become a vet because bad things always happened to my cats. Some disappeared, leaving me to wonder whether my father drowned them in our pool as he threatened with every litter. Most were killed while crossing the road in search of better food than the cheap kibble he bought. Others suffered. For example, Pooh’s tail was partially severed one day while I was at school. Did my father slam it in a door? Did our redneck neighbor’s children chop it with the hatchet they kept in a tree trunk? I don’t know. But when he turned around after trotting down our gravel driveway to greet me at the bus stop as he did every day, I burst into tears and nearly threw up when I noticed three inches of bare bone above the rest of his orange tail, which trailed along behind him like a wedding dress train. Instead of taking him to the vet to have that part detached humanely, my father stomped on it, prompting Pooh to run and abandon three-quarters of his tail.
When I applied for a job as kennel assistant at a veterinary hospital after high school graduation, I envisioned myself prepping pets for surgery—i.e., placing the little anesthesia cone over their muzzle while humming “Rock-a-Bye Baby”—and then handing mended pups and kittens to grateful children.
Since nothing in my life has ever gone the way I hoped, I hosed poop and urine from kennel floors and tried not to get mauled.
I started my job July Fourth weekend when apparently every family in Lorain County dumps its dog at a kennel to keep it from freaking out during fireworks. In groups of six, I led 81 dogs to chain-link kennels behind the hospital. Once they were allegedly caged, I went back inside to spray, mop, and squeegee the indoor kennels before bringing those six inside and escorting another group out.
During my few weeks as kennel assistant, I learned that Chihuahuas can dig a hole really fast and run even faster. I learned that German shepherds will tell you they prefer to stay inside on a 90-degree day by gripping your wrist with their teeth as you attempt to attach a leash to their collar. And I learned why a coworker warned me not to let a tall, black Newfoundland named Kody—short for Kodiac bear—get behind me.
“Grab his collar close to the side of his neck and lead him like a horse,” she said.
Usually, I did. But like the guy who goes into the factory to work a little overtime and gets sucked into a lathe by his sleeve because his mind drifted for a second, I took one step ahead of Kody because he was lumbering slower than usual on a morning that I had a migraine and desperately wanted to escape the nonstop barking and howling. Spotting an opportunity, in slow motion, just like a horror movie, Kody reared up on his hind legs, towered over my 5-foot-8 frame, and pinned me against the door.
I never asked what veterinary assistant Melanie Seal was doing there so early—perhaps she was prepping the little anesthesia cone she would later place over a pet’s muzzle while humming “Rock-a-Bye Baby”—but if she hadn’t come along and wrangled him, I would’ve given birth to a litter of puppies a couple of months later.
Knowing my father would’ve threatened to drown them, too, I quit the next day.