When opposites collide

A shining moment in veterinary history: If only it could repeat iself
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Aug 01, 2008


Illustration: Ryan Ostrander
I could almost hear the "twang" when Blitz hit the end of his leash and it stopped him short. The snapping sound of his big mouth almost catching my arm followed immediately. Mrs. Whiteflag was quick to apologize.

"Oh, Doctor, what ever will we do with Blitz? He is so nasty that everyone is afraid of him. We think someone must have abused him when he was young."

The truth is that Blitz is a thug, a canine hoodlum. He holds the entire Whiteflag household under a state of siege, and no one will challenge him. His attitude reminded me of a man I once had the displeasure of knowing. His name was Curt Loutish. Curt didn't have anything against me personally. He hated all veterinary students.

"Hey, kid, what are you doing in vet school? Don't you know you are depriving some village of an idiot?"

He was a 5-foot-3-inch, 170-pound sack of insults and attitude. He worked in the barns at the veterinary school, where his resentment of students was no secret. Those of us who intended to enter small-animal practice found ourselves one notch even further down on his list than the other students.

"Get out of the way and let me do it myself. I don't want to be here all day. If brains were dynamite, you couldn't blow your nose," Curt would say.

The women in my class got it even worse.

"What are you doing here, Honey? Shouldn't you be home having babies or something?" he'd ask.

To me it seems that Curt and Blitz are two of a kind.

Fortunately for me, the stressful office call with Blitz was immediately followed by a visit from Manners Harmony. Officer Harmony and Manners both had retired from the Philadelphia police force two years earlier. Manners' behavior is impeccable. His demeanor is quiet and reserved, but I wouldn't want to be any of the unfortunate humans who ever faced him on the streets of Philly. He reminded me of another man I once knew.

Ben Amiable, the blacksmith, also worked at the school. He was an older gentleman (about the age I am now). Among students and faculty alike, Ben was considered the definitive source of information concerning the feet of a horse. We would sit mesmerized, listening to him speak and watching him work. The strength of his personality was matched only by the obvious power in his massive forearms and hands. I doubt that the man ever said an unkind word. Ben and Manners are two of a kind, but a very different kind from Curt and Blitz.

It takes all kinds, though, as they say.

One day back in 1971, I saw what can happen when two of those kinds collide.

Several of us were in the blacksmith's shop when the surly little ogre attacked. He launched a big salvo of verbal abuse at everyone in the room. Unfortunately, that included the ladies present and, unbelievably, Ben as well.

Moments later, Curt was airborne. By the time I looked back, Ben was quietly working at his forge, as if he hadn't just launched a 170-pound nuisance almost into orbit. Curt landed just outside the door and disappeared quickly. I will always consider that to be one of the great moments in veterinary history.

After their office calls, Blitz (the Curt of the animal world) and Manners (the corresponding Ben) left my office at about the same time.

Gazing out the window, I must confess that I felt a twinge of desire to see history repeat itself.

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.