Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Conversation with Dr. Gustafson, DMV

For this blog I interviewed my veterinarian, Dr. Blair Gustafson, DMV and owner of the Country Hospital for Animals (he's also a renowned polka dancer!). Check out the clinic at:

1.  How long have you worked with animals?
Dr. Gustafson:  I've worked with animals my entire life. I grew up on a small hobby farm where my family raised calves and lambs and there were always dogs and barn cats around. Both my sister and I had horses, and like a lot of kids I brought injured wild animals home to nurse. I worked in veterinary clinics for 4 years as a stable boy and kennel cleaner while I got my undergrad degree, and then spent 5 years completing my doctorate and post-graduate work. But if you're asking how long I have formally worked as a veterinarian, the answer is almost 28 years.  Boy, I'm old.

2.  What made you decide to become a veterinarian?
Dr. G:  When I was younger, I was fascinated by nature, I liked working with my hands,  and I loved science. Quietly interacting with animals felt a lot more comfortable to me than conversing with people, which is the common lot of awkward nerds everywhere.  I just didn't know how to tie all that together into a paying career. Then one evening my dad came home from work and gave me a book someone had left  in the caboose of his train.  The book was called "All Creatures Great and Small," by James Herriot, and as I read the stories about his life as a veterinarian in Yorkshire, I knew without a doubt that being a vet was for me. So here I am, the result of a .95 cent paperback novel discarded on a coal train in Parkman, Wyoming.

3.  What is your favorite part about your job?

Dr. G:  My job has a lot of good parts to it. I've learned to interact with people in an almost lifelike facsimile of a friendly person, and have even come to find humans interesting (well, some of them, anyway).  As a solo practitioner - a dying breed both literally and figuratively - I treasure my independence, and  I am flattered by the fact that a lot of the people who walk through the door seem to trust me and treat me like a friend; that's awfully humbling, and much-appreciated.  I like holding newborn animals, and I still enjoy working with my hands to fix things. And not just with my hands: every day, these silent, mysterious cases show up in my hospital, and I have to try to figure them out with very little help from my patients; it's like putting puzzles together all day, and I love that challenge.  But if I had to settle on just one thing, I think the primary selling point of my job is the variety.  Every day, I come to work and I have no idea what might walk in, and what skills I'll have to conjure up. Whether it's implanting a pacemaker in a dog, pulling a tooth on a wallaby, reading x-rays on a turtle or setting a broken wing on a robin some child found in a yard, being a veterinarian is a true exercise in improvisation. I like that my job is never boring.

4.  My pets certainly seem to love coming to the vet and you have a special way with animals.  Do you have pets at home and what kinds do you have?
Dr. G:  You're very nice to say that; it means a great deal to me.  Time has slowly thinned the animal crowd at my house, and we're down to just an old earless, tailless cat and a cavalier King Charles spaniel.

5. With the holidays coming up what are some tips you can give our readers on keeping pets safe and happy?
Dr. G:  
a.  Keep the cats out of the Tannenbaum and your vet won't spend Christmas Day removing tinsel from the resulting intestinal bockage (and large sums of cash from your checking account). Really, that's not a good present for any of the parties involved.

b.  No matter how much those big brown eyes plead with you, don't break down and give your dog rich holiday treats from the table. People often feel like their pets should celebrate along with them, but your beagle isn't aware that it's Hanukkah or Christmas, and besides, most of the animals I know are agnostic anyway.  Well-meaning people sneak the little blighters turkey gravy or pumpkin pie, and that just results in the gift of pancreatitis. If you want to give your pets something they will really love and appreciate, give them a hug or a pat. 

c.  Keep the electrical cords to the Christmas lights up and out the way so they don't become a chew toy. 

d.  Remember that lillies, holly, and poinsiettas can be toxic, particularly to cats.  Incidentally, mistletoe is not only fairly poisonous, but can cause lifelong scarring, particularly if it is held over your head at the junior high  "Back to the '50's" dance so that you are forced, blushing head to toe while your buddies elbow you,  to kiss Ruth Hutchinson, a girl you have had a crush on since 1st grade, in front of the entire giggling class in the gymnasium at the Earle Brown middle school.  Or so I am told.

Thank you so much, Dr. Gustafson for your responses!  And as always, thank you so much for your great work.  My pets are happier and healthier for having known you! 

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