Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Naming

One of the unsung minor perks of being in small animal practice is the exposure to the ever-changing landscape of pet names. This might not seem like a "perk", but I enjoy learning the names and, for the unusual ones, asking how they came up with them. For obvious reasons people allow themselves far more latitude for creativity with pet's names than with their children's. That said, there is also a lot of overlap and there has been more than one family where I have had to be very careful not to refer to the dog by the daughter's name because, honestly, Bailey is a far more common dog name than human name (with all due respect to you wonderful human Baileys out there).

The range of pet names is breathtaking. I normally change all the names in the blog, but for the purposes of this discussion I'm sure nobody will object if I just list the names of all the animals I saw at work yesterday as an example of what I mean:
Tikka, Snerkle, Junie, Gunner, Silvester, Kayne, Kirby, Annabell, Maggie, Milkshake, Poppy, Stewie, Ben, Wimbley, Rico and Castle.
This is absolutely typical. Nothing crazy, but clearly a lot of thought and some creativity there. And each of them an individual perfectly suited to their name.

Some common names are presumably easy and quick to give - Tigger for a tabby cat, Blackie for a black Labrador - but many probably involved a lot of debate in the family. For those of you for whom this was the case, isn't it interesting how a name that was so difficult to come up with, and that you were a bit uncertain about at first, now seems so inevitable and perfect in retrospect? This even happens for objectively inappropriate names. I had a cat patient named Bob for a number of years. Bob was a girl. They had been told that she was a he when they got him/her and didn't think to double-check. I had to break the news to them when they brought Bob in for the first shots, at which point the name had already stuck. They didn't try to feminize it to Bobbie or Roberta, saying that she still "looked like a Bob". And you know what, they were right. I now can't imagine her being called anything else.

My own dog's name of Orbit came about after trying on several others that just didn't feel right. One day we were watching him rocket around the house in circles and we started saying Sputnik. Yeah, I know, that would have been wrong so many ways, but it did get us going on that theme, from which Orbit emerged. It also helped that he ate everything in sight and that roadside trash containers in Manitoba when we were growing up were called "Orbit", as in "Put your trash in Orbit!" (see photo above). Our one cat, Lucy, was named by my daughter after a second cousin in Germany who had made a strong impression on her. We got the second cat shortly after and Isabel though she should have a German human name as well. For fairness and symmetry you know. Many were considered and rejected until she settled on Gabriella, which instantly became Gabi.

But of course the best part of discussing pet names are the weird ones and the funny ones. Unfortunately although my memory is generally really very good, it has a glitch when it comes to names. They appear to reside in the mental equivalent of a sock drawer. So, while I originally intended to present something like a "Top Twenty Fun & Wacky Pet Names I Have Encountered", sitting here right now I can only come up with three... In no particular order then:

1) Russell Bertrand - As in, the cat's name was Russell and the owner's last name was Bertrand. The fact that this amuses me speaks strongly to my geekness. The reverse, Bertrand Russell, was an important English philosopher, writer and Nobel prize winner who lived from 1872 - 1970.

2) Maximillian Samba-socks - Another cat. I don't know why, but this one still cracks me up years later. Even this bizarre name suited him perfectly. Maximillian Samba-socks could only be Maximillian Samba-socks.

3) Satan - They thought it was hilarious naming their their little black poodle Satan. At least they thought it was hilarious until they found out that he had a habit of disappearing deep into their big yard at night and often had to be loudly and repeatedly called back to the house, "Satan! Satan come here!"

As I can only offer you three of these right now, I will crowd-source a longer list. I'll solicit comments from colleagues and friends on Facebook and paste their responses below. Also please feel free to leave a comment on the blog!

Thank you!

From Facebook:

"Morsel the mouse is one of my favourites. A 15 gram mini hamster named Jaws. 60kg Rottie named Peanut. A stray taken in named Spare Cat all come to mind . Oh, and a female pug named Frankie. Owners last name is Money. Frankie Money... sounds like a rock star to me."

"Daycare hamster named by committee - Princess Monster Truck."

" I had a dog by the name of "Porsha"... Everyone wants to "Porscha"! Had a dog called "Nad"... when they wanted the dog to leave the room they thought it was hysterical to say go- Nad. I personally thought the name I gave my dog was awesome it was vetoed by my receptionists though... Called the dog "Bumpkin" one of the characters in The Hobbit. When the dog behaved well I said "good bum" when the dog misbehaved I said "bad bum" ... Probably just as well with the me-too movement. My receptionist brother's dog is called Askem... when you ask for the dog's name he says Askem... people always give you a funny look!"

"My favorite are the ones where the kids don't agree so they have two or three names strung together."

"for a short while we had a Rabbit we named Stewie, we also had a mouse called Morsel, 2 rats named Stinky and Tim (Brothers) and two budgies named Bert & Ernie"

"Piggy, Puddles and Potato the pugs. Alliterative AND descriptive"

"Whenever this question comes up, my mind always goes to "Stirfry" the cat."

"Deeogi the dog. Get it? D-o-g spells dog. When I saw that written on the file I was all,"oh...what an interesting name. How do you pronounce it?""

"I also really like the cat named Pierre Trudeau (PT for short)...when I enquired why, the owner replied that the cat was handsome and arrogant"

"Not so much the name of the pet but an oops moment as a third year student at the Portage Animal Hospital. Small cards were easily misread. The inappetent Iguana came in for a recheck and I asked "Raymond" "How is your lizard:? Turns out the lizard was Raymond!"

"Also a favourite...a cat named "Franz Joseph" (named after an Austrian emperor) which also happened to be the name of my late grandfather who immigrated from Austria."

"Deefor (D for dog), Mimi the cat (after the tragic character in La Boheme, but should have been Me me, because that's all she cared about). A common human name, but unfortunate dog name, is Jack. I was at the offleash park when a dog started jumping up on me. His owner was yelling from far away, "Jack off!" Over and over...  At the age of 5 I named our first dog Sally Anne Stephenson. She just went by Sally."

""Airmail" The Airedale.. Usually known as the whole phrase "Look! Here comes 'Airmail the Airedale'". A Chow, "Mr Kurt Russell". I was told when we first met that it is MR(!) Kurt Russell " ! (No "Kurt" or "Russell" or even "Mister" ). A budgie named "Lil' Shit". I always laughed thinking if the owner had to call for him loudly..."

"The Chihuahuas win out for me - Princess Taco, Mr Timothy Bits (although the owner said she might have to shorten his name after he was neutered)."

"Cat named Quincy Turtle!"

"Saw a Pug yesterday called “We Z”"

"A cat named Hey You."

"A sweet Golden Retriever named 'Dexter'... after the serial killer."

"A rabbit named Bunny and her owner’s last name is Hopp."

"My very favourite: Seiko, "because she's a watch dog", said my friend who named her. Also: Matic, a black Lab. As in "dogmatic" for those not quite in the zone. For a while we gave our barn cats names beginning with "cat", therefore Catalpa and Catalan. There are endless ones to choose from in that category (sorry): Catastrophe, Catalina, Catamaran...We drew the line at Catamite. When we named our black and white tuxedo cat Orca (pretty obvious, but irresistible), our daughter was a little disappointed, but pointed out that he could still have a "cat" name by adding a "t" to the end: Orcat."

"I don't know if I ever told you what a fiasco it was getting to the name Gibson! I had had a name in mind that I was set on and it became clear I should've used 'executive order' and not asked anyone else....but....I didn't...sigh.... A day and a 1/2 of calling this little puppy "Puppy...come here, Puppy!" while my young adult children rejected every name I offered up (and some of them were REALLY good ones, in my mind! ie: Griffin, short for Griffyndor!) and gave a laundry list of 'reasons' why each name was no good...too common, too lame, too much reminding them of this, that and the other thing, too this, too that...GRRRRR! If I went thru 50-100 names that would not be an exaggeration! Then my parents got in on rejecting each name...And of course, each person offered up all their own names, none of which I liked because they were from favorite shows (Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones) or from the 50's - Rusty, etc. There are few things MORE "fun" than trying to name MY new dog, with 3 different generations, lemme tell you! LOL Exasperated and ready to drink the basement bar dry after 36 hours of this and no end in sight, as I was standing in the basement declaring "oh my God, you 2...this poor puppy needs a name before he thinks his name IS "Puppy"!! what should happen? A beam of light suddenly shone thru the bottle of Gibson rye sitting on top of the bar,(that I might've been greedily devouring straight out of the bottle in my mind at that point! lol) and the color of the rye? Almost identical to the color of my puppy! I suddenly and excitedly said "Gibson!!" He's the same color as that Gibson rye, his name should be Gibson! It's not common, it's different but not insane and it has a hard letter sound!" (which was important to me for reasons I don't fully understand!) They shrugged and made faces, I said next time I took him out, I was going to try it out...just like I tried out all THEIR names - Magnus and other ill-fitting names. We made our trek outside, I called him by a few other names still being considered but which I didn't love at all and the minute I called "Gibson" he stopped and turned and came right to me....and in that moment, he became Gibson! I marched inside, told EVERYONE, every opinionated person that I was making an executive decision on the spot - he shall be known as Gibson! The End! And while the boys were ambivalent, they didn't hate parents didn't really like it (in fact, my dad insisted he'd call him by the name HE liked better! So that had to be stopped before starting!) but now.....1 yr later - no one can imagine him being anything other than Gibson..inspired by how much I was eyeing that bottle of rye that morning! ";)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fiddling With The Dials

I remember clearly the first time it happened. It was about two years ago when a good client who I had known for a long time told me that she had heard I was retiring. I was touched that she looked concerned, but disconcerted by the question. Since then I have been asked at least a half dozen times about my alleged imminent retirement.

First things first, no I am not retiring soon. Quite aside from any question about how long I want to work, the plain mathematical fact is that I am very unlikely to be able to afford it for at least another ten years. If I retire now we are moving into a trailer and the kids, and possibly the pets, will have to find jobs. Also, I am only 52 years old after all! Yes, that's right, I said "only".

At first I was quite taken aback by these rumours, thinking that they related to my grey hair and my admittedly at times somewhat haggard appearance. It honestly feels like no time elapsed between the last time I looked too young to be a doctor and the first time I was asked whether I qualified for a senior's discount at Shoppers Drug Mart (to be fair to myself, the clerk was so young that I'm sure anyone over 30 looked impossibly ancient to him). From Doogie Howser to Marcus Welby overnight. And before anyone makes any snide remarks, no, I am too young to have watched Marcus Welby MD on TV - I just happen to know who he is.

But when I calmed down I realized it probably wasn't my appearance so much as it was my schedule. Two years ago I cut back to three days a week. At the same time I adjusted the shifts so that in those three days I work 70% of full-time. I had gone to working four days a week a long time ago and back then the transition from five to four hardly attracted any comment, but at three I seem to have crossed a line. Now it looked to some like I was beginning the process of easing my way out of practice.

That is, however, not the case.

The reason has far more to do with my work-life balance than with my career trajectory. When I worked four days a week the one day off was designated for errands, appointments, housework and childcare. Although both children are teenagers now, both have some special needs that require additional attention. Consequently this day off is as busy as my work days. Therefore I took the additional day off when I turned 50 to have a day to pursue other interests, such as writing, and to go for long walks, and to have delicious stretches of unscheduled unplanned hours. I am well aware that a "me day" like this is a luxury that few people enjoy, and I am very grateful for it. And this finally brings me to my point. My point is that one of the great beauties of veterinary medicine as a career choice is the freedom to chose your hours and thereby also, to a limit, chose you income.

It's like there are two linked dials: one for hours and one for income, and in many multi-doctor small animal practices you have the ability to fiddle with these dials. You want to work less? You turn the hours dial down and the income dial turns down automatically. You want to earn more? You turn the income dial up and the hours dial turns up automatically. In theory you could work as little as eight hours a week or as many as eighty. Not many people have that sort of freedom. To be accurate though, some veterinarians don't either. In smaller practices you may be forced to work full-time just to be able to keep all the shifts covered and for many large animal veterinarians freedom and flexibility, or the lack thereof, is tied to the dramatic seasonality of the practice. But many of us now work in practices where flexible scheduling is possible. For those wanting to start a family this can be very attractive (so long as the spouse earns enough...). And for those greyhairs like me who want to do the things they put off for decades but don't want to (or can't) leave the profession, this can be very attractive too.