Today I got an email from a tech at my school, asking if the radiology department could use my dog Jack for a teaching exercise. My roommate had suggested Jack as a good dog for this particular class. He would be sedated, and students would radiograph (x-ray) him. In exchange for allowing them to practice on him, I would be able to request that any body part be radiographed, and have a free analysis of the image by a radiologist.
Jack does have marginally bad hips, but he hasn’t shown any discomfort lately, so I don’t think that getting rads of his hips is worth the annoyance to him of having to spend a day in the hospital and be sedated. Recovering from sedation isn’t awful, but it isn’t as fun as, say, not having been sedated in the first place, either. So the lure of free rads isn’t compelling to me.
I replied that I would be willing to let them use him, however, and this is why. I believe in use of student dogs, particularly mellow dogs like Jack who aren’t traumatized by being in the hospital for a day and being handled by strangers. What’s the alternative, after all? Students might learn these procedures on client dogs, who are actually sick or are less comfortable with strangers than Jack is. As my advisor once said, “When a veterinarian performs a procedure on your pet, how many times do you want him to have practiced that procedure on other animals?” The answer, of course, is “One thousand times.” We don’t want our animal to be the first.
Who else could vet students practice on besides their own dogs? One option would be to purchase animals for this use, or to use ex-research animals which are maintained on university campuses for this reason. Such animals are well cared for, of course, but it is not as good a life as being a pet. I believe that every dog should get to be loved by a human.
So Jack will volunteer yet again to help out. (He has already given blood to a study on hemangiosarcoma in golden retrievers, and gotten a cardiac ultrasound to help veterinary cardiologists better define values in normal dogs.) He will be annoyed. But if the visit goes like his previous volunteer appointments, he’ll get ice cream afterwards. That’s his payment for helping to advance veterinary medicine.