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Equine September 2009 (Vol 4, No 7)

The Final Diagnosis — Nala and Me

by Amy Bentz, VMD, DACVIM

    Few things are more precious to large animal veterinarians than their canine copilots. They are faithful companions, ready to jump in the truck at a moment's notice, whether it's 7:00 am or midnight. However, puppyhood can challenge even the most devoted dog lover. While watching the recent hit movie Marley and Me, I realized that, as a puppy, my Rhodesian ridgeback, Nala, occasionally surpassed Marley's bad behavior.

    When I graduated from veterinary school, my first two purchases were a jeep and a puppy that I named Nala. It took more than a year to obtain her from the busy breeder Alicia Mohr-Hanna. When I first saw Nala, she was beautiful and peaceful, quietly lying in the grass, playing with a toy. I knew it would be a pleasure to take my new best friend home. As we were leaving, Alicia mentioned something about the puppy being the alpha female of the litter. Little did I know how true that would turn out to be…

    As my copilot, Nala was always ready to go on farm calls. She eagerly jumped in the truck, and we rode around the countryside, treating large animals. I quickly realized that Nala needed to be confined during farm visits because of job hazards (e.g., chasing barn cats and deer, wandering off). She would wait patiently in the truck, her keen, almond-colored sight hound eyes peering over the dashboard, watching the action.

    However, if she thought the call was taking too long, especially if there was too much conversation as the visit was ending, her patience would cease. She would hang her head out of the truck's window and howl loudly, as only a hound can do. She was so loud, the owner and I wouldn't be able to hear each other, which rapidly ended many visits. Nala would then happily settle down on the ride to the next farm. During a few very long farm calls, she resorted to chewing the passenger-side seatbelt, leaving it to dangle in shreds until I could replace it, which lightened my wallet by a few hundred dollars.

    In addition, Nala was not a fan of staying in her crate. Although I spent many hours making beautiful, plush, waterproof beds for her and would crate her for only short periods, Nala enjoyed shredding countless beds. I would find her surrounded by a pile of fluff with an innocent expression on her face.

    When Nala was a puppy, taking her for a "walk" was an adventure. I looked like a fisherman trying to reel in a marlin! Nala would jump around, trying to chase squirrels and deer, and it took all of my strength to not lose the leash.

    Nala is 11 years of age now and has matured into a beautiful grand dame. Her job titles are now "chief security officer" and "correctional officer" to her two daughters, Peanut and Belle. However, despite Nala's age, some of her antics continue. Nala has developed an amazing ability to steal food when my attention is briefly diverted by a phone call or a conversation. She waits quietly, stalking the treasure with her eyes, and then, at just the right moment, grabs the food and runs. Instead of howling, she prefers to stare at me and make a very quiet, high-pitched call when she wants a treat. While Nala is not as agile as she used to be, sometimes she gets a gleam in her eye when she sees deer, and I know that they better run!

    NEXT: Abstract Thoughts—Cells Arising From Monocytes: Nature's Transformers

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