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Falling in love with a patient

One of the least talked about hazards of working with animals is that you constantly fall in love. In human medicine it is considered unethical to fall in love with one’s patients, but fortunately no such restrictions apply in the veterinary profession.

I can clearly remember the first patient l fell in love with – a large Pyrenean Mountain Dog named Igor, assigned to me as a student at Onderstepoort. Igor was suffering from an auto-immune disorder and was as mean as sin, launching himself at his kennel fence every time anyone walked past.

Perplexed by his behaviour and growing weary of risking life and limb twice a day, l sat down opposite his kennel to observe him and try to understand. Surprisingly he didn’t react to my presence at all and l noticed, as people walked to and fro, that he growled at some and ignored others. After a good hour, just as l was about to give up, it dawned on me – Igor only showed aggression towards people carrying leashes. Somewhat cautiously l approached the kennel gate, swung it open and invited him to come with me, slowly walking towards the clinic with my hand gently stroking his neck. He was like a lamb and from that day forward we handled him without a leash or any restraint at all.

Over the years l have fallen in love countless times. In the past few months at the Mdzananda Animal Clinic there have been many such patients.

First there was three-legged Sisi whose owners no longer wanted her after she had to have a leg amputated. Then there was blind Bobby, the courageous little pit bull, born blind and surrendered to us when his owners felt they were unable to cope with a special-needs puppy.

Pretty was another pit bull who arrived weighing very little.

Scrappy, also a pit bull, was confiscated after being found chained up on a chain so short that she was unable to lie down. She had deep pressure sores on her emaciated sitting bones. Mbombosi was handed to our mobile clinic by her owner who wanted her euthanized because she was ‘ugly’, suffering from mange and covered in deep sores.

And who could forget little Figo, dumped at the clinic, thin and almost naked from mange.

Each one will hold a special place in my heart because l had to give them my heart to help them heal.

And then there was Magnum a pit bull whose owners could no longer handle him and requested euthanasia. The moment l took the leash from his owner l felt him relax and calm down – he knew that l wanted nothing from him, there were no expectations, he could just be a dog. Before we had reached the hospital ward l knew I would not be ending this beautiful boy’s life.

There was no logic in my decision; it would not be easy to rehome such a big dog, especially since he was a pit-bull. I also had no idea of his character. There were financial considerations too and the practicalities of caring for him while we brought him back to health and socialised him. But love is blind and I was already smitten!

I discovered that he loved the company of other dogs and was always smiling and excited about life. Every morning I told him that we will find him a good home. Every evening my heart ached as I whispered, “Your special home will come soon Mags”. After a few months at Mdzananda, his perfect family arrived and he now lives in a wonderful home with a doggy sister and his human family.

People often ask how l cope with the sadness of working with animals in one of the poorest communities in South Africa. I reply that my life is filled with love! Read more stories like these on IFAW's Blog:

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