Hello, my name is Dr. Mark Beerenstrauch, and I am a veterinarian, pet-talk radio-show host and, most importantly, a pet parent. I thought the best way to start this column was by blogging about the most influential person to come into my life. The only catch— she was not a person but a dog.
I was a young, naive freshman in college when my first pet, Nita, came into my life. Nita was an eight-week-old female Rottweiler mix that I received for free. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that I still use today, when speaking to young people who are considering getting a pet, as an example of what not to do. Although things worked out for Nita and I, many spur-of-the-moment decisions about pets don’t.
Nita was more of a soul-mate than a dog. I think a lot of us have encountered dogs we have a unique connection with. Maybe it’s because they’re just our first pet, maybe they helped us through a difficult time or maybe they are just different. There are certain animals that you just establish a connection with— a connection so strong that it changes who you are. Girlfriends came and went, houses came and went, states I lived in even came and went, but the one constant in my life was Nita. Nita and I had an understanding. I could look at her and know what she was thinking, and she could do the same with me.
Over the next 13 years, Nita was the most important and most consistent thing in my life. Her main influence was present in the decision involving my professional aspiration. She inspired me to change my major from sports administration to pre-veterinarian studies, and then graduate veterinary school seven years later. She inspired me to be the best veterinarian that I could be — always trying to provide the highest level of medical care to a pet and compassionate service to a pet parent.
One spring day, Nita (as she always did) accompanied me to an elementary school for career day. Nita absolutely loved kids, and the kids loved her. She was the type of dog that would let 20 pint-sized second graders listen to her heart, brush her teeth, and pull on her fur, and she would love every minute of it. It was a typical Nita moment.
However, over the next several days, there was a drastic change in her health and demeanor. She stopped eating and became lethargic. She didn’t meet me at the door or want to go on walks anymore. I knew something was wrong. It was almost as if she went from 7 years of age to 15 overnight.
Over the next 10-14 days, I ran every diagnostic test that I could. When those came back normal, I ran all of them again. I had X-rays taken and abdominal and thoracic ultrasounds, and we visited multiple specialists, including internal medicine specialists, cardiologists, and oncologists — and yet no answer. It is frustrating when I can’t solve one of my patient’s problems—it’s even more frustrating when that patient is my own pet.
Her physical condition was deteriorating rapidly, and I felt that diagnostically I was at a dead end. The only thing left to do was an abdominal exploratory surgery to see if I could find a problem. I had the afternoon blocked off, and we were ready to go to surgery. I had her on the prepping table and was performing my final pre-surgical physical when she gave me a look that I will never forget. I knew it was time to let her go. Performing a surgery would only benefit me if I could find an answer— it would not benefit her. I made the decision to humanly euthanize her.
Nita was more than a dog for me. She inspired me to be a veterinarian and continues to inspire me today. She was a rock in my life and taught me several important lessons, including not forgetting what it’s like to be a pet parent. As a veterinarian, it’s easy to separate yourself from your clients. I always try, though, to put myself in a client’s position in order to better understand a situation. Nita also taught me that you may not have all the answers. Wanting and having is not the same thing, and it was an important lesson that I needed to learn. Finally, she taught me about letting go. Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I have had to do, but it was in her best interest. We always had a connection, and maybe she is still part of that little voice in my head or that feeling in my stomach when I am consoling pet parents who are dealing with a difficult situation involving their own pets. I never ignore it and always try to share it with my clients.
Dr. Mark Beerenstrauch is a practicing veterinarian in Las Vegas, Nevada and hosts a weekly pet talk radio show called “Pet Talk with Dr. B.” Dr. B enjoys working with pet parents who want to take an active role in their pet’s medical care. He also enjoys college football, hair metal and country music, along with one-eyed dogs and three-legged cats.