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Full Circle: A First Responder Invitation

By Kim Everson, DVM

It was about 8:00 pm on a mild December night. I had just steeped a cup of Tension Tamer tea and had serious plans to finally fold the laundry when two Town of Eldorado First Responders began pounding on my door. After corralling my four-legged body guard (an American Bulldog named Guppy), I opened the door unsure what was about to unfold.

Car crash scene near exit 106, Town of Eldorado. Photo reprinted with permission of Carlos Munoz Jr.
Car crash scene near Highway 41, Town of Eldorado. Photo reprinted with permission, Carlos Munoz Jr.

“There’s been a car accident over there,” the female First Responder rushed, jerking her head in the direction of flashing lights and sirens across Highway 41. She wore a helmet, heavy coat and reflective gear. A rumbling truck with flashing lights waited behind her. “A dog was in one of the trucks and was thrown around the vehicle. We don’t know if it’s hurt. Could you come and take a look?”

Immediately my mind began running through the possible scenarios of what I might find and how I could help. I looked down at my clothing. I was still wearing a dress and tights from attending a family funeral earlier that day. “Let me throw something else on,” I said and ran upstairs to whip on jeans and a sweatshirt, a hat and winter boots.

Both First Responders waited at the truck for me. “Do you want to bring your own car,” one asked.

“Actually, I need a lift. I don’t have a car tonight,” I answered.

Quickly I unlocked my clinic and hurried about gathering the first things that came to mind: stethoscope, otoscope/ophthalmoscope set (it’ll serve as a flashlight if nothing else, I thought), a slip leash, towel and several muzzles in different sizes. I had no idea what kind of dog I was going to encounter or in what degree of pain. It would certainly be afraid. My hastily grabbed items felt inadequate, but I reminded myself that my job tonight was to assess a trauma patient and possibly preparing a pet for transport to an emergency facility. In any event, we could bring the dog back to my clinic for a better assessment and stabilization once it was removed from the scene. These doubts and rationalizations flitted through my mind rapid-fire as I clambered into the truck.

As we bumped down Ridge Road and turned onto County Road N, the pair of First Responders chatted easily with each other and tried to prepare me. “The people involved have already been evacuated from the scene,” they said. “The dog is in the back of a truck. It began drooling heavily. We just don’t know if it’s hurt.”

In no time, we arrived at the accident. As I opened the door and stepped onto the shoulder, I felt dazzled and disoriented by the red and blue and yellow lights flashing off the reflective gear of half dozen or more emergency personnel. It was an alien scene: diesel fumes and broken car smells, crackling radios and blinding lights, strangers and neighbors, adrenaline and apprehension. I noticed one vehicle disabled a ways off in the farm field facing the road, its front end damaged but headlights on. The First Responders pointed out a pickup truck in the ditch, its air bags deflated, driver’s door open.

I cautiously approached the cab, sorting through the items in my pockets for the leash. A wide-eyed, big, blocky-headed white and brown dog sat in the passenger seat.

The use of a dog seat belt not only keeps a pet from interfering with safe driving, but also keeps a pet inside the vehicle in the event of an accident.
The use of a dog seat belt not only keeps a pet from interfering with safe driving, but also keeps a pet inside the vehicle in the event of an accident.

“Her name is Roxy,” someone shouted to me. “She had been sitting in the front and was thrown into the back seat.”

“Hi Roxy,” I started crooning. “How are you feeling? Are you hurt? I bet you’re scared. Do you want to come out?” As I chatted at the dog, I showed her the slip lead and attempted to place it around her head. The dog was too far away from me, and I worried she might be protective over the vehicle. I didn’t want her to feel trapped and take a defensive position. “Does the passenger door open?” I asked a nearby Responder, never taking my eyes from Roxy, examining her from afar. She was breathing without increased effort, mouth closed. No visible blood on her. Sitting squarely on her haunches. Front limbs straight and weight bearing.

“It’s locked,” they said. I wanted Roxy to come out so I could examine her better.

As if she might understand me, I began reasoning with her. “You don’t want to stay in there, do you? Why don’t you come out so we can get you somewhere warm and safe.” The dog didn’t shy away from me as I reached toward her. Her body language indicated interest and confidence. More confident myself, I was able to slip the leash around her neck. With just a little prompting she crawled into the driver’s seat.

Now I was trying to fit a muzzle on her, not sure if she was going to need help exiting the truck and afraid she might bite if my assistance incited pain. The muzzle was ridiculously large. Roxy looked at me disdainfully. “Okay, okay,” I laughed. “Let’s see if you can get down out of there yourself.” I backed up and kept an encouraging amount of forward pressure on the leash. Roxy jumped daintily from the seat onto the gravel, all 80-some-pounds of her. She strained at the leash as I tried to get a better look at her eyes and ears and gums, cold dampness creeping through my denim as I kneeled on the crust of snow. As I ran my hands over her limbs and back, feeling for bumps and scrapes and watching for signs of pain, she leaned with all her might toward a trio of people standing several feet away. Heart and lung sounds good, no drooling, strong and alert. I stood up, handed the leash to a First Responder, and said, “She looks all right. Could use another exam in a better setting, but I think she’ll be all right.”

The First Responder thanked me and pointed the hand holding Roxy’s leash toward the trio of people standing at the front of the truck. “That there is her owner.”

Feeling more than a little stupid — if I’d known that, I would have just had him get the leash on her and entice her from the truck — I walked Roxy over to him myself. “American Bulldog?” I asked trying to break the ice. “She’s beautiful. My own dog is an American Bulldog…don’t see many around here.” He nodded, distracted as the two officers finished their interview and administered last minute instructions on how to document any latent injuries. The guy looked shell-shocked and I couldn’t blame him. I waited my turn for his attention. “Are you local? Do you have a regular vet?” I cringed inwardly; it sounded like soliciting. “I mean, you should have her looked at tomorrow morning,” I blurted out. “Even if she seems okay.” I gave him a list of things to watch for that would indicate emergency veterinary care should be sought right away.

I wandered back to my ride. My First Responders–my neighbors, my daytime clients–stowed their gear and turned the rumbling old truck toward my home. Feeling calmer I began to enjoy the mild December evening and the camaraderie of being a Local. It occurred to me suddenly that I’d come full circle. “You know,” I mused, “over ten years ago I trained to be a First Responder. It’s what inspired me to go back to school to become a veterinarian.” I never even had had a chance to practice as a First Responder at the time, I thought, and now here I am a veterinarian on my first First Responder call. Ironic, isn’t it?

The other irony in this story is that a mound of clean laundry continues to sit unfolded upstairs while I write this post.

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