Summertime in the 1950s brought to me interesting employment opportunities as a teenager. Besides working as a babysitter, a prune picker, a pear cutter and a sheet shaker at the laundry, I served as receptionist/nurse for Dr. Campbell, our local veterinarian. Besides caring for animals large and small, he was also working with chinchilla breeders who wished to speed up the reproduction rate of this small rodent because of its soft mink-like fur then much in demand by the fashion industry.
In order to increase the production rate of the little rascals, he was developing a program of artificial insemination. This was for me a new insight into sex education. The males were fastened to a rack and given a low dose of electrical shock. The semen ejaculated was carefully collected and placed into an egg yolk mixture, which was stored in the refrigerator until the time when the young females came into heat. Then the little princesses were strung up on a frame and injected with the sperm-egg yolk mixture in hopes they would produce precious offspring. I don't believe that he became rich or famous with his project because the animal activists of that time were creating a movement to protect fur bearing animals from the fashion industry. Mink, chinchillas and other animals were on the protected species list.
Word came out that skunks made great pets, but first you had to deal with the notorious scent glands they used to defend themselves. One day a woman brought in a skunk she had captured by scaring it into an empty garbage can. We successfully removed the poor creature's odoriferous glands but it later died of pneumonia. The woman had used a high powered stream of water to direct the animal into the open garbage can. The water, surgery, and the stress of the whole ordeal proved too much for survival.
My fear of dogs, especially big ones, made me an unlikely candidate for this job. However, the veterinarian, who was our neighbor, was in real need of a receptionist/helper that summer. When the job was offered, I willingly took it. One of my first hot days on the job, he asked me to go and water the dogs that were running freely in the large outdoor kennels. I did fine with the small dogs, but when it came to a large boxer who had just had his ears trimmed, I didn't do so well. When I opened the large chain link kennel door, water dish in hand, the dog bounded for me. I think now he was just being friendly when he put his strong paws on my shoulders, but at the time I was sure he planned to eat me alive. I put down the water dish and dove into his dog run, saving my life but allowing him to run freely where I should have walked. My knees were rubber. My voice was no more than a whisper as I helplessly called, "Dr. Campbell, Dr. Campbell!" After what seemed like forever, he came looking for me, and rescued me from my safety in the dog run. He never questioned why the dog and I had changed places. If he had any other choices of assistants I think he might have fired me but I continued on the job all summer.
One day a man brought in his much loved German shepherd. The dog was having violent seizures. After lifting the dog onto the examining table, my job was to hold its front paws with one hand, then hold down the dog with my body while securing its muzzle with the other hand. The dog had to been motionless while its paw was shaved, sterilized and then given a shot to relax and end the violent spasms. After a few minutes the large canine seemed unconscious. Then the medication took effect and with great heaves, he regurgitated the contents of his stomach. Apparently the dog had eaten a rat that had been poisoned with strychnine. The poison had worked well on the rodent and then gone to work on the German shepherd. It was my job to clean up after that eruption. The owner, feeling sorry for me, gave me a nice $5 dollar bill for a tip. I gratefully accepted it.
The idea of abortion was unknown to this young teenager in the 1950s. My introduction to the necessity came when a small dog impregnated by a very large one was brought into the office. The young female was being suffocated by the growing puppies inside her. The surgery went well, though I felt sad for the litter of pups we had extracted from the mother— each pup struggling for breath — was glad to have been able to help save the life of the mother.
My summer experiences in the veterinarian's office did not make me want to go into medicine, but they did provide some great opportunities to learn. I am thankful for all my summer jobs and opportunities they gave me.
Jeanie Oakleaf Anderson is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.