Timeless Spirit LogoTALES OF A COUNTRY VET

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. July's Theme: "Love"
Volume 2 Issue 5 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Tales of a Country Vet
with Dr. Bruce Burton DVM

Ahhh…Love! What terms come to mind when we mention the word 'love'? Affection? Devotion? Chocolate? Yes, all of the above, and much more. We reflect on the tiny events which brought us together and the nuances, which pass unspoken and act to cement relationships for years. I have been asked many times and in many ways "What does she see in you?" So I will try to provide a short, but insightful glimpse into my romantic past.

Mine is but a simple, yet oft-repeated, story. 'Boy meets girl. Girl falls madly in love with boy and his obvious charms. Boy chases girl until she catches him.' Well, maybe there were a few diversionary twists and turns along the way.

(Before I begin, I have to say that in the past, I've got myself into trouble in this column by using a person's real name. So, in the interests of maintaining strict anonymity, and matrimonial stability, I shall refer to the central individual in this story only as 'Trixie.' Furthermore, before I begin, I want to emphasize to all you kids out there, beware the demon rum!)

I began my academic career many years ago in the hallowed halls of the University of British Columbia. I was but a lowly student in First Year Science. My aspirations at that time were to become a wildlife biologist and I found out that the smaller, more practical faculty of Agriculture offered a specific, and much more pragmatic route to achieve this goal than the faceless and much more academic faculty of Science. So, in second year, I enrolled in Agriculture and officially became an 'Aggie.' It turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made.

I first met 'Trixie' at UBC. We were both studying in the faculty of Agriculture, but were in different departments - I, in Animal Science, she, in Food Science. So, even though we were in the same faculty, we did not meet until the beginning of third year. In order to graduate in Agriculture, it was mandatory that all Agriculture students successfully complete the "Third Year Field Trip."

This field trip was organized, primarily, by members of the Institute of Agrologists and was meant to introduce all students in the faculty to the wide and diverse nature of Agriculture throughout the Province.

On the morning of our departure the class of '73 gathered with our suitcases and backpacks in tow on the lawn in front of the wonderful old, faded white, hip-roofed Dairy Barn, which was located kitty-corner to the MacMillan building. Seventy or so eager, fresh-faced students, complete with a small cadre of knowledgeable chaperones, called professors, prepared to pile into two buses and head out on a tour across the hinterland of lower British Columbia.

Our itinerary included beef feedlots and green houses, feed mills and juice factories, hay ranches and dairy farms. Every day was organized to the minute and filled to the brim in order to expose us to all aspects of practical agriculture. It was to be a whirlwind tour and we were expected to take copious notes, upon which we could reflect at some later date. We were provided with special notebooks, which had to be submitted at the end of the trip. It was anticipated the trip would assist the participants, at least those of us who would graduate, to choose into which facet of the agricultural universe we would soon fit. The notebooks would confirm that we were at least present, if not conscious, during most of the trip.

The Third Year Field Trip was the one class, if it can be called a class, which was universally acclaimed and eagerly anticipated by all Aggies; city kids and country kids alike, for our faculty embraced both. The field trip was a tradition. But, unlike so many other traditions, it had a purpose that was respected by all.

Mind you, it was not so much for the intellectual stimulation or the chance to get out and see the Province that the trip was held in such high regard. Rather the trip was so eagerly coveted because it was famous, or more correctly, infamous, for its reputation in the realms of, shall we say, the more social aspects of human interaction.

The Bachelor's degree in Agriculture program was four years long. The field trip was strategically held during the first week of classes at the beginning of, not surprisingly, third year. This permitted us to meet all the other students of the year as well as some members of the faculty, before graduation. Being a small faculty, it was important for everyone to know as many individuals as possible, and the Third Year Field Trip facilitated this goal admirably. And, of course, officially, the exposure to different components of food production was designed to provide students with a broad perspective of the job opportunities in the field of Agriculture. However, we knew what the week was to hold, from those in fourth year, so as we boarded the buses, a sense of general excitement permeated the crowd.

As we drove along Marine Drive, heading towards our first stop, a feedlot in Langley, Dr. Bardock, a new professor in the Department of Soil Science, stood up at the front of the swaying bus and explained the absolute necessity of appropriately filling out our notebooks. He outlined what information was required to be in the notebooks by the end of the trip. He emphasized that 'losing' the notebooks would not be accepted as an excuse for not turning them in at the end of the trip, as several of the more inventive students in each of the past years had attempted to do. 'Failure to submit an adequately completed notebook would surely constitute a failure in the course, and thus would preclude any hope of graduation,' he emphasized with as stern a face as he could muster. We were suitably impressed, until a tiny smile appeared on his face as he turned to sit down at the conclusion of his brief lecture.

The buses soon broke free of the city and headed out into the beckoning rural pastures of the Fraser Valley beyond. We visited a feedlot, learning where beef cattle came from, what they were fed and where they were processed. After an hour or so, we then piled back into the buses and headed east to visit Ritchie-Smith feeds in Abbotsford. I had been lucky enough to get a job with Agriculture Canada that summer, and was more or less familiar with several of the areas we were traveling through. Having grown up a city kid in Burnaby, and loving the prospect of getting out into the country, I was already having a good time.

After a short lunch just outside Abbotsford, we visited a Dairy farm in Rosedale and then ended up in Hope, where we were scheduled to spend the night. Dave Paton (yes, the same venerated Equine Doctor of local fame) and I were booked into the Lucky Strike Motel, just north of town. We had been told to get a good night's sleep because we would be leaving bright and early the next morning. After a short, unremarkable dinner, we looked for something wholesome to do. Even then, Dave and I were the clean-cut, up-upstanding individuals we still are today.

All the girls had dutifully retired to their respective rooms and since it was too early to go to bed, Dave and I walked back into town to see what was happening. Expecting to meet other members of our fraternity, we wandered into the lobby of the Hotel, just off the main street in downtown Hope.

At that time, the only places where upstanding citizens, like ourselves, could legally slake our thirst was in a 'Beer Parlour' which, by law, had to be attached to a legitimate hotel. So, once we found such an establishment, we sat down and ordered a beer for each of us. Then some of our classmates began to show up and, by social convention, we were forced to have a few more. By closing time we had each consumed enough beer to remain socially acceptable to our peers and yet still appease the bartenders. However, since it was after-hours, these same bartenders now wanted us out, so they could close up.

During the entire time we had been sitting and calmly drinking our beer, the hotel and its floors appeared quite solid and stable. Unfortunately, as we stood to accommodate the wishes of our host and to vacate the premises, the room began to sway. First it leaned hard to the right, then just as hard to the left. I was having a devil of a time negotiating my way through the dense maze of moving tables, laden with up-turned chairs. They seemed to swerve into us as we tried to work our way to the exit.

Luckily, I was able to follow Dave who, in practiced fashion, easily made his way through. However, he was a little too successful and quickly disappeared outside and I was left alone. As the doors closed behind him, I became confused and stopped for a minute or two. His head then popped back through the doors as he hollered back to tell me I was on the right track and to follow him. He indicated the doors were a little stiff and that I would have to force my way through them. They were swinging doors, the kind of louvered, wooden half-doors which graced the saloons of all T.V. westerns.

As soon as the room steadied itself I was able to fix a bead on the doors. Then, taking a deep breath, I made a headlong dash towards the narrow opening between them. Either I was much stronger than I had imagined, or the doors were weaker, but whatever the case, I dove right through them as though they were gossamer and, in the absence of any significant resistance, continued at full force down the steps and rolled head-over-heels into the middle of the street where I lay dazed for a minute or two. Fortunately, the street was devoid of any vehicular traffic. I then struggled up to my feet to see Dave stabilizing a telephone pole that seemed a little wobbly.

Slowly gathering our thoughts, we waited for the road to settle down. As soon as it was safe to move, we grabbed onto one another. Once the earth had come to a complete stop we began to march arm-in-arm down the main street of Hope.

Now, after consuming somewhere between eight and a dozen glasses of beer each over the course of a couple of hours and, at the same time, being asked forcibly to depart the premises prior to our availing ourselves of the facilities there-in, we soon became aware that it was unlikely we would be able to effectively reach our rooms without having to relieve ourselves of the excess liquid thus accumulated.

This posed a slight problem. We looked around. All the stores were closed. No gas station was open. And by that time, not surprisingly, we weren't quite sure of the name of our motel and where it had moved to. However, we vaguely recalled, that the street we were on did eventually lead back to the highway and from there we reasoned that we'd likely be rescued by any other passing students, so we ambled, tight-legged, back towards the general direction of where we thought most of the motels in town were located. We deduced that the buses would be parked in front of the correct motel and we could find our way back to the bosom of our classmates.

We hadn't traveled more than a hundred feet or so before nature's call became an unbearable emergency. I cautiously looked up the road ahead, then slowly looked behind. Once I was sure we were alone I put my arm over Dave's shoulder, leaned towards him, held my finger to my lips and whispered with a conspiratorial tone, "Shuuuush! … don't tell 'unyone… but I gotta go!"

In the interests of decency, we then parted company, and I proceeded to successfully irrigate the excessively arid centre line of the main street of Hope. Dave and I rejoined and somehow stumbled and sang our way back to our temporary abode. The doors were locked but, fortunately, another classmate saw our dilemma, and assisted us back inside and safely into bed. At least I think that's what happened, since I woke up in my bed the next morning.

Needless to say, when reveille was played at daybreak, I, not being accustomed to the after-effects of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol was in no state to navigate the complicated process of opening my eyelids, let alone getting out of bed and downing a breakfast of greasy bacon, sausages and eggs. Dave, on the other hand, was wide-awake and bright-eyed. He had a full breakfast and skipped eagerly into the bus. The effects of my headache only exceeded the battle raging noisily in my stomach.

I stumbled outside, still fully-dressed, but unshaven and unshowered, and with focused concentration, slowly and deliberately climbed up the stairs of Bus 2.

I shuffled unsteadily down the line of occupied seats. I noticed everyone who had an empty seat, shift from the window to the aisle just before I passed. I wasn't sufficiently responsive enough to be offended but rather I accepted the explanations that they were saving their seats for one or more of their friends.

Dave had already grabbed a seat next to another attractive class-mate in Food Science and was extolling the virtues of riding with him, since being raised on a farm, he knew where we were going and what we were likely to see. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than a few sips of cool water, a glass-smooth ride and complete and utter silence.

At that point in my life, I would never have sat beside a girl I didn't know. I was always painfully shy around girls, especially cute girls. (Part of my charm I guess.) And, in what I recognized to be the state I must have been in, I would never in a million years have chosen to sit beside one who held out even the most remote dating potential.

However, by the time I had slowly worked my way to the back of the bus, 'Trixie,' for some unknown reason, did not shift from the window seat. She was looking anxiously, with seemingly abject concern out the window. So, with a feeble smile, which I assumed would override my olfactory pungency, I deposited myself on the seat beside her. I figured the best approach was to say and do nothing and stare straight ahead.

I also did this to keep whatever was fighting to emerge from the depths of my stomach where it was. She mistook my silence for my being suave and aloof. As I continued to stare straight ahead, peripherally, I could see her glancing coyly in my direction. Obviously, she knew quality when she saw it! I shifted coolly in my seat, while maintaining my visual fixation on the seat directly in front of me so as to stifle my hangover-ridden body from vomiting all over her.

I interpreted her subtle but obvious attraction to me as part of the cool image I was now consciously attempting to cultivate. The truth, it turns out, was slightly different. I was to find out later, that 'Trixie' was willing to do anything to avoid sitting next to the girl who had latched onto her during the first day's ride. Beryl was about two hundred pounds of monotonously delivered drivel. She could bore any sane person into going 'Postal' in a matter of half an hour. 'Trixie' it turned out, would have gladly sat with anything, even a rotting seal carcass, rather than endure one more day with Beryl. And so, it appears, I was the lesser of two evils. I must have been quite ripe during that leg of the trip. However, at the time, I was convinced it was my cool charm and obvious good looks, rather than my odour, which had her mesmerized.

Sitting calmly, I was only just barely able to hold my own. My stomach was going through a temporary armistice so I seized the opportunity and was just about to speak to my engaging seatmate, primarily to discover her name, when the engine of the bus roared into action. Then, as we lurched and swayed out of the parking lot and onto the Hope-Princeton Highway, and the diesel fumes from Bus number 1 poured in through the open windows, I clenched my teeth and remained silent. It took my full and complete concentration to focus on holding my stomach in check. And so we proceeded in silence.

Now the Hope-Princeton is neither a straight nor a smooth stretch of highway. It winds and twists, it goes up and it goes down, it swings back and forth around outside corners then back around inside corners. It hugs the edges of precipitous rock cliffs. And with every jog and turn and every pothole, I was sure I was going to explode all over the seat in front of me. The acrid taste of bile surged repeatedly to the back of my throat. But, through some miracle of will power, I was somehow able to hold my stomach contents down.

I felt rotten but I kept the lid on all the way to Keromeos where we stopped for lunch at a fruit-processing plant. By then I must have turned several shades of green, but I was still master of my stomach - until the sickly sweet aroma of the fruit juices wafted in and around the group as we exited the bus. I made a mad dash to the far side of the concrete building and disgorged the toxic mash that had been fermenting agonizingly in my stomach for the previous several hours.

I then felt much better and by the time we rejoined the bus, I was able to muster a cool smile. I was determined to hold onto this smile so I could turn on the charm for the next leg of the journey. Any girl who was attracted to someone in the condition I must have been in was obviously worth a second look. Alas, things were not to work out as planned. Although I had the presence of mind to slyly leave my sweatshirt on my seat to preserve my spot, by the time I re-entered the bus, Bill, a student in Agriculture Economics had surreptitiously flipped it away and was sitting in my seat, chatting animatedly with Trixie. Clearly enjoying his advantage he smiled as I moved on, finding the only vacant seat left on the bus. From Keromeos to Penticton I was treated to Beryl's life-history.

Now that I had competition, I had to form a plan of attack. In order to better control the course of events, I swore off any form of booze for the rest of my natural life. Well, at least for the remainder of the field trip. And once I was free of the evils of alcohol, I was able to turn on my irresistible charm for the succeeding four days. Needless to say, from that point on, she was hooked. I dare say she was smitten and we remained 'an item' from that point on.

After we returned from the field trip, Trixie and I continued to go out together. One of the more enjoyable benefits of being in Agriculture was the dances, held in the old 'Barn' coffee shop over the next year. 'The Barn,' which, at one time was actually used to house the campus Dairy herd bulls was, and still is, an institution and was the site of many of the best dances on campus. These were primarily for Agriculture students, but any students in 'Nursing' or 'Home-Economics' who could be tempted were more than welcome to attend.

The biggest dance of the year, the annual "Farmer's Frolic," was held in the Student Union Building in January. It was scheduled as the big wind-up event, the crowning glory, at the end of 'Aggie Week.' Any and all students from the entire university were invited. Often there were two to three hundred people, all having a rousing good time. By the time January rolled around, I had completely forgotten about the after-effects of excessive alcohol indulgence and had religiously sworn off abstinence. I was still going out with "Trixie," and since we had planned to take full advantage of the dance, it was decided Trixie would drive and would refrain from drinking. I was still living at home in Burnaby so she picked me up in her mother's brand new car. We met up with our other good friends Collin and Cathy, and headed off to the dance.

After about four hours the band, 'Slick Dick and the Firestone Five,' began to wind down. Drinks were obtained by first purchasing a strip of tickets and then cashing them in at the bar. 'Last Call' was soon approaching and I didn't want to waste a single ticket, so I cashed in the remaining four tickets and lined the beers up on our table. With each bottle, I became more debonair, and by the end of the evening, was feeling like a cross between Paul Neuman and Fred Astaire. Of course, I was later told I looked more like Kid Shaleen in "Cat Ballou".

As I was being guided towards the door on our way out, my right leg gave out and I pirouetted in a perfect, downward rotating spiral, landing spread-eagled on the floor. Since "Trixie" was still holding my hand I landed on my back staring dumbly at the ceiling. I could vaguely hear Collin in the background hollering at me to quit fooling around and get up. Trixie was tugging futilely at me to help but, for the moment, I was entirely content to remain safely where I was.

I remember thinking that gravity was holding me securely on the ground for a reason, and as long as I remained prostrate, I couldn't fall any further. And I knew there were stairs ahead that I would somehow have to descend. As I gazed upwards I could recognize the faces of my friends hovering above me with what appeared to be half-hearted concern. Then another face I couldn't recognize, appeared. It too appeared concerned.

The face belonged to a handsome young man, obviously a kind-hearted soul, who offered to help get me vertical. Trixie was even more frantic in trying to dismiss the significance of my situation, and thanked the stranger but suggested that I would be fine. Through the haze I could see the stranger looking at me and then at Trixie and then back and me and shaking his head. He eventually departed after asking "You sure I can't help?… at least to get him into a chair?…" "No, No… thanks anyway… he'll be fine…" Trixie answered.

It really didn't matter to me what happened, I was just content to remain safely anchored to the floor. "Whooz zat?…" I asked, since she seemed to know him. "My old boy friend!" she answered under her breath.

By the time Collin and Cathy helped Trixie load me into her mother's car I was semi-lucid and still feeling no pain. The bracing winter air helped immensely. We drove to my house along Marine Drive. I kept the window rolled down all the way, but never felt nauseous. Not, at least, until we got to my house and parked.

Then, as Trixie got out and walked around to open the passenger door, the entire contents of what I had eaten and drunk over the course of the night simply and quietly erupted in a single, full-volume up-chuck which ran all down the outside of the door, and down into the rolled down window of her mother's brand new car. So, to add injury to insult, Trixie had to get up early the next morning, well before her parents, and clean and scrub the outside of the door, the inside of the door and both sides of the window.

However, true love is a marvellous thing. It is an unstoppable force. And, undaunted, Trixie continued to pursue her heart's desire and finally won my hand in marriage. Obviously, even in my weakest moments, my enormous potential must have been clearly evident. Trixie was able to see past my few, minor shortcomings and was able to recognize the value of this soon-to-be world-famous wildlife biologist.

And now, after being married to her for more than twenty-seven years, our bonds are as strong as ever. As I look fondly across the bed, there she is, as cute as the first day I met her, lying there sound asleep, snoring so loudly she keeps all the dogs in the neighbourhood awake.

I just don't have the heart to wake her. So, I just put in my earplugs and remember what she had to put up with so many years before.

Being able to withstand this level of retribution must surely be true love.

Dr. Bruce Burton, DVM, B.Sc., M.Sc., works with the animals at The Greater Vancouver Zoo and with 'animal stars' in the local film industry. He has extensive expertise in domestic and wild animal biology, health care and nutrition, as well as fish and game-farming experience. In addition to his busy practice in Bradner, Dr. Burton teaches at The University of British Columbia, and is often called upon by the SPCA to help exotic animals in need.

He chooses to write down his experiences so they are not lost, but rather shared with others. He wants his children and grandchildren to be able to read them first hand. I hope you enjoy your own sneak peek into his daily routine!

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