February 23, 2012

Three Signs From Your Childhood That Point to Vet School

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I always thought that I had a fairly typical good childhood, full of playdates, educational excursions that were masked in fun and plenty of time outdoors. However, I’ve been talking to my non-veterinary school friends lately, and I’ve come to realize that a lot of the things I was interested in and liked to do weren’t actually typical at all. So, whether you’re a lost college student trying to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, or an anxious parent trying to figure out your child’s mysterious behavior, here are some signs that vet school may be somewhere in your future.

1.   Books: I used to be a voracious reader, and a column like this wouldn’t be complete without talking about James Herriot. Herriot (his real name is James Alfred Wight) was a country veterinarian in England in the mid 1900s, and wrote a series of books based on his life. The stories he tells are both amusing and poignant, and almost everyone I know who is involved in veterinary medicine has read them. BBC made a TV series out of the stories called All Creatures Great and Small and I spent a lot of this past winter break watching them on Netflix. I really want to go back and reread the stories after going through a year of vet school to see how my perspective has changed.

While we’re talking about books, I’m also going to throw in the Redwall series by Brain Jacques and Watership Down by Richard Adams. Both of these have animals as the protagonists, although Watership Down is for an older audience than Redwall. As a child, I always was disproportionately fond of books with animal protagonists instead of human ones. Adams also wrote a book called The Plague Dogs, which I remember liking enough to read several times, although my recollection of the details is a little hazy. It’s another one I definitely want to go back to, because I remember that it followed two dogs that escaped from an institution that was conducting research on them. I think The Plague Dogs might be one of the reasons I grew up being a little wary about the idea of research on animals. As I started to think seriously about my career, animal research was a topic I had to redefine my views on.

Last on this list would be books by Gerald Durrell. It’s hard to give a sound-bite sized summary of Durrell, but basically he was a naturalist who, amongst many other things, wrote a book called My Family and Other Animals. He chronicles his childhood collecting and generally being passionate about animals in the Greek island of Corfu. He’s written other books set in different times of his life, but My Family and Other Animals is the one that I’ve read so often that the spine of the book is unidentifiable now.

To my parents’ credit, my dad was the main reason I was exposed to a lot of these books, especially the ones by Durrell and Herriot — he’d heard of them and knew that they were exactly what an animal-obsessed child would like to read.

2.   TV: While my friends were watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, I was watching … Animal Planet. Seriously, I never turned it off. I was fascinated by the landscape and animals that lived in parts of the world I’d never imagined before (I might have had a huge crush on Steve Irwin. I had a crush on the whole country of Australia, really). I was also inspired by Emergency Vets, shocked and saddened by the various Animal Cops shows, and thought The Planet’s Funniest Animals was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I’ve heard rumors that Animal Planet has gone downhill since the days I used to watch it, but I haven’t looked into the issue myself yet so I don’t have anything to say about it.

3.   General Behavior: My parents had to actively train me not to run up to any animal I saw outside to pet it. It’s a lesson that’s still only half-stuck: Whenever I see a stray cat, no matter what part of the world I’m in, I usually try to make friends (at least because of vet school I’m now vaccinated against rabies). I also begged my parents for an animal as soon as I could speak. My first pet was a goldfish and I cried for hours when he died. And you know how for some reason the “If you could have any superpower what would it be?” question seems to come up a lot? Most kids say flying, or teleporting, or reading people’s minds. I used to say, without hesitation “I want to talk to animals!” Honestly, I probably still would say that. I should have added the Dr. Dolittle series (the original Dr. Dolittle, written as a series of books by Hugh Lofting) to that books list above.

What I’m trying to get at is that it was an inherent obsession with all things related to nature and animals that drove me towards vet school. Along the way, I discovered plenty of other interests that pulled me away for a while, but they must not have been strong enough to overcome years of childhood conditioning. I also discovered that vet school isn’t just about working with animals. It encompasses a myriad of other professions besides “animal doctor,” but learning this just made me even more interested in it pursuing it so that I could find out about all of the other exciting things I could do.

So, if you’re that person who’s easy to buy presents for because all of your friends know that an animal-related present will always be a winner, don’t be surprised to find vet school in your future.

Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a first-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at [email protected]. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Nikhita Parandekar