2003 Review

Pet Tales 
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
2003 in Review

This is the time of year to review the memorable events of the past year.  I am going to ask your indulgence to allow me to reminisce about some animal related events of most significance to me, personally, that occurred in 2003.

 Last spring, I had the opportunity to be a member of a group that went on a humanitarian mission to Guatemala. I have written about the experience in previous columns. It certainly created many memories I will never forget. The animals in Guatemala have a big spot in those memories. Anyone who has visited countries in Central America or is somewhat familiar with them, realizes that the people and animals in this part of the world have suffered many hardships in the past. Many still live today without some of the most basic essentials for health and well-being. Essentials that we here, take pretty much for granted. Enough food to eat, clean water to drink, shelter from the elements, and access to medical care, all are often lacking or non-existent. Yet in these poverty stricken and impoverished circumstances of life there are many, many strengths and positive traits displayed, by both people and animals. One of these traits is of particular interest to me. I can report that, in my opinion, the human-animal bond is strong and functioning in Guatemala.

Animals are very much a part of life in Timushan, the Mayan village, we visited. While there are feral or stray populations, just as there are in Canada, most dogs and cats live with a human family. They are given names just like our pets. They have a role in the family structure and are talked about with pride by their owners. I hope that some day the conditions of life will improve for the people and all the other creatures living in this region.

In the summer, I, along with the others members of the production team taped a number of segments for Pet Tales, seen on Cogeco Community Television. I have been doing this program now for twenty years and it continues to be one of the "outside the exam room" activities that I most enjoy. It allows me to meet people who have some sort of relationship with animals. It reminds me of the importance and the diversity of animal relationships that exist. I can learn so much from such people.

We visited the African Lion Safari. I talked with trainers in the Parrot Paradise show, met Carol Precious and the cheetah she has cared for since its birth. I got up close to elephants and learned about them from Charlie Gray. Charlie, in addition to working with elephants at the Lion Safari, has also traveled to Thailand several times to assist with an artificial insemination project involving elephants in that country. At the Toronto Zoo I met animals from around the world in the space of a five hour visit. I interviewed animal keepers who care for flamingoes, gaur, reindeer, eagles and kangaroos. I even got to ride a two-humped camel. On another day I visited with Valerie Jones a Burlington artist who paints, with a wonderful talent, both pets and endangered species of animals. I got tips on photographing pets from Jerry Ridgeway and Susan Simmons, a certified animal behaviourist, shared her knowledge about pet behaviour problems. This is only a partial list of guests I met. Now do you understand why I enjoy doing Pet Tales on television?

In October, I attended the World Small Animal Veterinary Association conference in Bangkok, Thailand. What a wonderful experience to meet veterinarians from all over the world, learning and sharing information about the health of animals. It is also very encouraging to see the continuing development and growth of the veterinary profession throughout the world. Anywhere I travel, I want to see the native animals. Thailand had lots to offer. The country of origin for both Siamese and Korat cats and whose national animal is the elephant has tremendous animal traditions. I have the photographs to prove these traditions continue in the present day.

I often say to clients that despite my extra-curricular activities, I have not given up my day job. As I approach next May and the celebration of thirty-five years since graduation from veterinary school, I still enjoy seeing pets and their people, in my every day work. Here is where I meet some really terrific animals. I get to marvel at their actions, abilities and personalities. I see illustrated how important they can be in people's lives. I am in awe of the intelligence and knowing of their acquired and instinctual skills. And the people are usually pretty amazing as well!

When you put all these experiences together they make quite a list of animal memories from 2003.