In Vetrospect

As far as I'm concerned, the telephone is both my life blood and public enemy

No. 1. For more than 20 years I've run my practice with just one helper. She is part receptionist, veterinary receptionist, veterinary assistant, surgical assistant and kennel cleaner.

I similarly bounce from role to role. It's not very professional but there is a kind of simplistic justification to it.

If I were to expand operations, my first need would be a full-time telephone receptionist. This would increase business opportunities, but then I would have to hire support personnel to keep up with the increasing business and such spiraling escalations blow my conservative little mind.

The telephone recording machine therefore has become of great service to my practice. However, I do have regrets about putting people off until I can call them back, so I'm considering a new menu option:

"If you have a problem with canine anal sacs, please press 1."

"If you have a sick dog or cat that bites, please press 2."

"If you have a very large dog that bites and also has a bad case of diarrhea, please press on elsewhere."

As you can see, I'm still struggling with the details.

Much of my phone frustration stems from the sometimes silly nature of questions like, "What's the gestation of a ladybug?" or "What's the life span of the Tasmanian wombat?" or "If I feed my wolf-hybrid garlic, how long until he becomes a regular dog?"

The other day when my helper Molly was busy, I hurriedly picked up the phone before my machine cut in, feeling frustrated by the number of messages I knew were piling up.

Honest to God, this was the question from my caller:

"How do you spell 'neuter?'"

As my mind raced between irritation and duty, I could come up with no clever or appropriately condemning response, so I simply answered her simple question:


Dr. Jack Thornton is a semiretired veterinarian. Reach him in care of

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