Timeless Spirit LogoTALES OF A COUNTRY VET

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Movement"
Volume 3 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Tales of a Country Vet
with Dr. Bruce Burton DVM

Teeth can tell a lot about an individual. They can provide information on what an animal eats, how old it is, and how healthy it is. Teeth can hold information about previous infections or the consumption of a wide range of chemicals, even years before. Even finding a single tooth can identify the species from which it came. Teeth come in all shapes and sizes depending on their specific function. Some are round and pointed for piercing and holding. Others are flat and corrugated for grinding. Still others have sharp-edged serrations for slicing. More importantly, with the smooth hard enamel, and deep, irregular roots, many resemble works of art. Ah! But where does one go to obtain such treasures? Certainly not Costco.

I was re-organizing my deep-freeze the other day, or rather my three deep-freezes. Now this may seem like nothing more adventurous than simple house cleaning, but, if I do say so myself, my freezers hold items that (I would suspect) do not grace those of the average house-hold. In fact, I have been led to believe that even other veterinarians are more catholic in their deep-freeze collectables than I. However, the contents of my freezers amount to an accumulation of years of dedicated work. A hard won accumulation of items that, to me, are either of immense potential interest to myself, my students (from a class I teach at UBC) and those with similar academic interests in the anatomical differences between various species or… are of no interest to anyone at all. Many are long-forgotten bits of animals that had been removed during surgery and never found their way to the incinerator. After most surgeries, I always like to show clients what we removed from their pet. Like, for instance, the twelve pound uterus I removed from a thirty-pound Pit bull a couple of months ago. The owners were more than a little impressed, and a little green, when I handed them the tub, showing off the massive, pus-filled structure. It helped drive home the idea of how ill little Daisy was. It ended up in my collection.

Some things I know I want to keep, others, I just don't feel capable of discarding. Many of the other items had just slipped to the bottom of the freezer and had been saved for no good reason what-so-ever. As a result, my relentless harbouring of biological collectables over the past few months had finally exceeded the maximum freezer space capacity. I had finally come to grips with the necessity of having to begin to start making room. I had to buy yet another freezer, or begin to utilize the tissues preserved therein.

This was no small undertaking. I like to think of what I do as a passionate intellectual study in comparative anatomy between various species and between normal and abnormal tissues. Others might say my actions are the result of a pathological inability to throw anything out. Regardless, there were several year's worth of bits and pieces. They had been stashed and saved in plastic bags of all sizes and textures, with the full intention of, at some point in the future, being boiled free of their extraneous muscle and skin. As an amateur skull collector, and part time lecturer, I have always appreciated the educational as well as the artistic nature of this hobby, even if no one else does. The said materials, consisted of almost any part of the anatomy of any animal that was no longer needing them. They included almost an entire horse (actually the remnants of several horses, sectioned and neatly labeled to be presented during the appropriate lectures at UBC), road kill (body-damaged, not head-damaged) from all over the province, especially dramatic tumors or limbs that had to be amputated, sea mammals that had washed up on the shores of Valdez Island and exotic patients that were euthanized and donated by their previous owners, ranging from monkeys to massive boa constrictors. Occasionally, an interesting case would end up in the freezer when an owner didn't want to pay to have it sent to the pathology lab but still wanted a post-mortem done. It was quite a collection.

Every clinic, every veterinary clinic that is, needs one or more deep-freezes to store deceased animals and mine were now past their ability to function in this capacity. I had been planning to clean the freezers for the past couple of years, but, well, the time never was quite right. But now I was committed. At first I thought I could just rearrange the contents. Why not? I used to work at as a packer at Simpson-Sears. Jack Campbell taught me well. I could pack anything. However, once I began to extract interlocked frozen heads, and bags of chickens, and exotic horned skulls, it was difficult to stop. I had everything on the floor and now had to try to replace the stuff I couldn't deal with immediately. When the rearranging was over, I was left with a pile of extra bags that wouldn't fit back under any circumstances. It was worse than trying to solve the Rubick's cube. So, at this point, it was simply easier to start throwing things out, than to try to put them back. Some of the material dated back more than 25 years to when I was a student at UBC. Even I was amazed.

So, once I had turfed out the unsalvageable and unremarkable and repacked the absolutely essential, I was left with a moderate collection of old bits which I decided to boil up. Four African hedgehogs (donated by Marge Kuyte, an old client and friend who, at one time, toyed with the idea of breeding them), a black squirrel, a fully intact Capuchin monkey (no lab will take a monkey carcass), a couple of Ostrich heads (from when they were exotic, before they were economic, but after they were expendable), and an iguana from somewhere. Others, such as a beaver, a least weasel, a couple of mink, a coyote and a few others, were put back and will have to ripen another year or so.

So, I set aside those I was going to work on and permitted them to thaw slowly. Once the thawing was complete, I placed them into the pressure cooker, out behind the garage, (I no longer have indoor boiling privileges in this regard) and flicked the switch. After a few hours the pungent aroma emanating from the rolling boil attracted the attention of Grover and Curtis, our two very large and perennially voracious dogs. As I walked them near the garage their noses and shoulders shot straight towards the door of the garage. Had it not been closed and barred, they would have had themselves a rather exotic stew before I could stop them. Using all my verbal and physical powers, I was eventually able to drag their straining bodies away. And I was only able to re-focus their minds when I presented them each with an extra large serving of kibble. They continued sniffing with great interest in the direction of the pressure cooker, but eventually were satisfied with the boring but filling dry food.

Around eight o'clock, I turned the pressure cooker off. By midnight the brew had cooled enough to safely pour off the excess liquid. I then manually stripped and flushed the loosely hanging flesh. Once I began, I couldn't stop. I noted that it was just before two A.M. when I finished. A lot of strange things seem to happen to me around two o'clock. I was a little punchy (due primarily to lack of sleep, but likely aided by the fumes) and upon reflecting upon the activity I was engaged in, I agreed with myself that any sane individual stumbling across this scene by accident might gaze a tad askew at anyone participating in this rather morbid activity, at this time of night. And if it was anyone, other than myself, in whom I have always had the utmost confidence and respect as a sober and diligent professional, I might also question the sanity of the individual in question. I might also question whether that individual might consider expanding his cultural horizons a little and get a life. However, when one gets hooked by a passion, such as skull-collecting, like any other addiction, one tends to lose perspective. So I convinced myself this was, and continues to be, a normal and psychologically healthy and appropriate activity for any well adjusted veterinarian. Really!… It is!

While brushing my own teeth before turning in for the night I happened to glance down on the counter and noticed another tooth. Since my mind was focused on the skulls I had just cleaned, and the interesting shapes and sizes of teeth they contained I was transfixed by this tooth. It was a rather special tooth. It was a large tooth with some remnants of the jaw still attached. It weighed about a pound and a half and, coincidently, had been obtained at precisely two o'clock. It was the fossilized lower left rear molar of an immature wooly mammoth and it brought back memories of when I was asked to visit Alaska several years back by a friend of that time.

I had been sitting at my desk at B.C. Research and was working on a project proposal when I received a phone call from my old university advisor, Bob Hudson. He had left UBC many years ago and was now the Department Head at the University of Alberta, faculty of Agriculture and Forestry and he had just finished speaking with Lyle Rennecker. Lyle was originally from Ontario and had, within the past year, obtained a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska. He had been hired to head up their new game farming department within the faculty of Agriculture. At that time, both Bob and Lyle were working with the new Elk farming industry in Alberta and Saskatchewan. At the same time I was heavily involved with the fallow deer industry in B.C. I had also been involved with a study on bringing Reindeer into B.C. from the Northwest Territories. The Faculty of Agriculture in the University of Alaska was being evaluated by an inter-university panel of experts to determine whether or not the faculty should retain its accreditation. This is done, apparently, with all the land-grant colleges in the United States and is a means by which the various faculties can threaten the universities to increase funding or risk the embarrassment of losing accreditation. A supposedly unbiased team of three 'experts' are asked to visit and assess each program within the faculty. These experts are usually elderly statesmen, who have recently retired from positions in other American agricultural universities and have the expertise, the experience and the time to perform these assessments. Bob, who had not retired, was first asked to participate. However, he was unable to attend. And since, at that time, there was almost no one else with both practical and academic credentials on game farming, as well as on other animal agriculture-related fields of study, Bob suggested they ask me to be on the panel. He was now phoning me to see if I was willing to participate, before he put my name forward.

Bob has always been one of my favourite people, even though I don't see him for years at a time. I've never heard him say a negative word about anyone. Well maybe one person. But he was, and still is, the soul of kindness. He was also brilliant and he acknowledged only one speed. Bob always operated at a dead run. Whether it was working, speaking, power-eating or running between classes, full-speed ahead was all he ever understood. Prior to this call, I hadn't spoken to Bob in maybe three years. The conversation lasted just over a minute. In that minute I was able to catch up on how he was doing, how his wife Jasmine was doing, where they were living, how old their two daughters were and what extra-curricular activities each was involved in, what the project was, was I interested in getting involved, and if so, Lyle would be contacting me and he had to go because his other phone was ringing.

As I hung up the receiver, I chuckled at the fond memories I had of this constant blurr who was Bob Hudson. At first I was slightly taken aback by the offer, coming out of the blue as it did. However, after thinking about it, I thought, "yah, this might be a good little holiday. It might be fun! After all, it was an expenses-paid trip to Alaska. I'd likely never get another chance to visit Alaska. And I knew every year, the river banks exposed fossilized remains of various extinct animals. Maybe, just maybe, I might get the opportunity to go fossil-hunting. And since I was in a position to take the week off I decided yes, I would go if they asked me to." And ask me they did.

The next day Lyle phoned me and we renewed our acquaintance. He outlined the project and then added a bonus. After the inspection, I could stay on for a few days and he would fly me out to their field study site in western Alaska. He was involved in a large reindeer project based in Nome. He also had the possibility of starting a study on musk-ox and being included in a study on grizzly bear predation. I was welcome to get involved in each of them if I wanted. It sounded better all the time. I couldn't wait. We were scheduled to leave in about two weeks, the beginning of July. The only catch was, I wasn't too fond of flying. Oh, I enjoyed the large airliners well enough, but one of the reasons I switched from being a wildlife biologist to being an earth-bound veterinarian was the constant necessity of biologists to partake in aerial censuses. I had my fill of counting geese and ducks from small fixed-wing Cessnas and Beavers. I always got airsick, even on the sunniest, most calm days. The smell of aviation fuel, the constant dipping and diving of the plane to get better sight lines, the over-heated cockpits (especially on sunny days), the unanticipated bouncing around (on blustery days), the constant reminder that small planes regularly fell out of the skies, or ran into the sides of mountains, especially in the wilds of western North America, all combined to dampen the enjoyment of the gorgeous panoramas below. I loved viewing the world from a small plane, but hated being up there. A strange dichotomy. I know if I was in control of the plane, I would love it even more. But, with someone else flying the plane, I have no anticipation of when the plane is going to drop or swerve. This is the same feeling when I am driving a car or truck. Call me a control freak, but unless I have my hands on the steering wheel, I feel uneasy. Not that I can fly a plane. I haven't the first clue how to fly a plane. I can't even fly the flight simulator in my computer. Rationally, I know it is infinitely safer to place my life in the hands of an experienced pilot. But, still, the thought of bouncing around in a small plane for a thousand or so miles over uninhabited, cloud-covered, mountainous wilderness in a small bush plane of dubious maintenance weighed heavily on me. So I approached the trip with a mixture of eager anticipation for what I was going to see and do and a cold acceptance that I would likely never live to tell anyone about it.

I received my airline tickets in the mail. I then drove down to Bellingham and caught a collecting flight, first to Seattle, then on to Anchorage. It was a glorious flight, sunny all the way. I was collected at the airport and introduced to my other two colleagues, Drs. Terry and Pullman. Their interests were in soil conservation and corn production. I was to supply the animal-related expertise to our group. While in Anchorage, we visited the university campus. It may seem strange to have a faculty of Agriculture in a state where virtually no agriculture was practiced, but then, Alaska is, as I was about to find out, well, a rather peculiar place. They had a swine specialist, Dr. Alexander, who conducted rather interesting research on feeding pigs in the Arctic. I believe his entire research barn included two farrowing crates and no more than four adult sows. From this tiny herd he actually did some remarkably interesting work. I was impressed. However, you could see his mind wander when he spoke longingly of the mega herds available for research in the 'Lower Forty-Eight.' I think there was one commercial herd in all of Alaska at that time, consisting of maybe twenty sows. Even UBC had a herd of more than sixty sows, and that was considered marginal for research purposes.

We also examined two of the four dairy herds in the Anchorage area. The faculty would conduct studies on these animals as well as on the small Dairy herd at the University. The size of the facilities was not impressive but the professors were certainly dedicated and begged us to recommend huge expansions in their budgets. They reminded me of Oliver Twist confronting Mr. Bumble at the dinner table.

After a couple of days in Anchorage we caught the 737 to Fairbanks, several hundred miles north. This was where we met with Lyle. I also ran into another acquaintance from my vet school days. Bob Blake was a year ahead of me and was always interested in wildlife medicine at the college. He was now the official wildlife veterinarian based in Fairbanks. We met and spoke briefly, since time was in short supply. He filled me in on some of the politics, governmental (federal, state, territorial), university, native, etc. I was astonished at the number of hoops which needed to be jumped through and the political maze that needed to be negotiated before anything could be done in Alaska. It was worse than anything I had experienced in Canada. It superceded the bureaucratic nightmares associated with the previous owners of Alaska, the Russians. However, I was determined to avoid the political minefields. And, after all, we had a job to do.

We had visited the standard agricultural departments (Animal Science, Plant Science and Soil Science) and, finally, were introduced to the recently established game-farming department. Funds were almost non-existent and the University was crying for support. We were ushered in to meet the Dean of the University. She made very clear the deficiencies in funding and outlined the critical importance to the faculty of a favourable report, without saying so. Politics! Then we visited the captive herd of musk-ox owned by the Department of Biology. I had assumed these were the ones that Lyle was planning to study. "No %$#^&& way that %%$#@ son of a *&^% is ever going to get his $#@#$% hands on these animals!" replied the professor in charge, in response to my question as to what was going to be done with them. 'Okay,' I thought, best leave that one alone. Obviously, the boys in Biology didn't see eye-to-eye with the boys in Agriculture. Not one big happy family!

We, Drs. Terry, Pulman and myself, gingerly questioned Lyle and his group separately from the members of the Biology department, in an attempt to clarify what was envisioned regarding the establishment of the new, game-farming department. It turned out that the Biology department felt they had a divine and exclusive right to study all wild species in Alaska and that Agriculture was merely jumping on the game-farming bandwagon. They felt threatened and reacted accordingly. The fact that the biologists had no experience whatever in basic production techniques didn't seem to phase them in the slightest. So, we did our best to remain moderately neutral, at least until the interviews were completed.

By the end of another two days we had compiled our data and had written a rough report. Dr. Terry, who had been through many of these evaluations in the past volunteered to complete the report once he returned to his home in Iowa and would send us copies of the finished report before we handed it in. So, in effect our work was complete and the two good doctors headed home.

Now for phase II of the trip! Unbeknown to me, Lyle had already arranged my flight to Nome. I was overjoyed when I discovered it was to be on another Alaska Airlines 737 jet and not on some patch-worked, homemade little bush plane. My spirits soared even further when I looked at the map and found out that even in a jet, the flight was going to take more than an hour.

Lyle had flown out the day before. He met me at the gravelly airport, just outside of Nome. Aside from seeing the reindeer, musk-ox and grizzlies, I was intrigued by the city of Nome. Johnnie Horton was my first musical idol and ever since 'North to Alaska' hit the airwaves, I had been fixated by the exotic sounding city of Nome! Well, it may have been something at the turn of the Century, where the gold rush drew the likes of Wyatt Earp, but by the time I arrived, it had lost a lot of its glitter. Nome boasted a main street lined with turn-of-the-century facades attached to the stores for the now-sparse tourist trade but the town itself was mostly a collection of dust-covered, run-down, ship-lap houses and mobile homes. The town itself was located on the shores of the Bering Sea, which, at that latitude, was as devoid of shore life as any inland lake. Nome, unfortunately, was nothing to write home about. However, the surrounding countryside provided sights of much greater interest to me. Lyle had promised to take me out to the study sites, but each site was more than two hours drive over rough gravel roads, made worse by the annually heaving permafrost.

So we spent the first day driving the outskirts of Nome. We passed Wyatt Earp's original cabin. He lived in it between 1899 and 1901. It was deserted, probably for many years, yet it looked in better shape than some of the houses in town. We also visited the shore line just outside town. It was lined with motor-driven sluice boxes. Apparently there was still gold to be found. But after that, it was a little boring. We went back to the communal house, walked around town and then back to the house. All the students were confined because of the weather. Fog often rolled in and prevented any flying. Most of the traveling back and forth to the research sites was done with small planes. But for now, they were grounded. And I wasn't scheduled to leave for another two days. To make things even worse, it truly was 'the land of the midnight sun.' I had experienced the lack of darkness when I worked in the Yukon. It didn't agree with me then and it didn't agree with me now. Although Nome is still about 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in early July it never really gets dark. So between the coughing students coming and going at all hours, the constant barking of the town's dogs, and the 24 hour daylight, it seemed that I got no sleep the entire time I was in Nome.

The next morning, almost immediately after I had finally fallen asleep (after plugging my ears and covering my head with two pillows) Lyle bounded into the room all excited. The fog had lifted and it appeared that we would be heading out to the study areas. 'Fantastic!' At least now I'll get to see the hinterland, and maybe a little of the local wildlife. "Up you get! Charlie's going to be here in two hours and he's raring to go!" Lyle said with enthusiasm. "That's great, we can have breakfast and then head out…" Lyle raised his hand to stop me in mid sentence. "Not really, it'll take us at least two hours to get to the air field. No time for breakfast! Let's go!" He raced down the stairs and out the door before I had time to digest what he said. The horn on the four by four was blaring before I crawled out of my sleeping bag. "Come on! Can't wait all day!" I heard Lyle shout from the road. As I scrambled down the stairs, putting my clothes on as I went, I reviewed what he said '…something about an airfield?…' "Hey Lyle, did you say airfield? I thought we were driving…" "Naw, country's too big, by the time we drove anywhere, the fog would roll in again, or it would start to rain, or snow. We do all our traveling by bush plane. Neat eh?" he said. I smiled in response. "I booked you a flight with our pilot. He's the best. At least the best in town here." I must have looked relieved. Lyle continued. "He's gonna take you all over. If the weather's good, you might see the reindeer herds and maybe even a grizzly or two. There's only room in the plane for one passenger so we're gonna hike in while you're enjoying your flight." "Oops! Forgot my camera!" I lied as I raced back into the house to grab something to eat. If I didn't eat, I'd be sick before we left town. I found a couple of stale doughnuts in the fridge and wolfed them down. By that time the truck was loaded with telemetry gear. They were going to try and track one of the grizzlies who had been tagged earlier in the year.

The trip to the airfield was bumpy, but otherwise, uneventful. Charlie was already on the ground waiting. Lyle ran up to him. They were out of earshot but I could see him explaining the fact that I would be his passenger rather than Lyle or the crew. He shrugged his shoulders. Didn't matter to him. He walked over, shook my hand. "Charlie!" He said. "Bruce" I replied. Lyle put his arm around my shoulder. "Charlie don't talk much but he's a good pilot. Built this plane himself!"

I could see it was a two-seater. Pilot in front, passenger in the rear. "He's gonna take you for a sight-seeing trip you won't forget." I was afraid of that. I had been with several pilots that enjoyed providing 'memorable' flights. Most ending with a full vomit bag. "Well, I'd like to get some nice pictures of the area, and you need the plane to fly steadily for that." I suggested hopefully. "Aw don't worry, he's great! He'll do what ever you want!" "Okay, let's go!" Charlie shouted above the whine of the engine. I hopped into the rear seat and we were off bouncing down the 'runway.' We were almost at the end of cleared gravel before the plane grudgingly took to the air. Luckily, there were no trees. He climbed up to about a thousand feet before leveling off. Rain was threatening but the clouds were at about the three thousand foot level, so we had a great view of the vista which lay before us. Before long, we were in amongst the mountains. They were rounded, worn down by glaciers and covered with short green vegetation. No trees. Most likely sedges and grasses. Lyle was right, Charlie did seem to know what he was doing. As we flew further north and east, the mountains and valleys increased in height and breadth, giving the feeling of being transported back several hundreds of thousands of years into what the Pleistocene era must have looked like. Huge open valleys extended as far north as the eye could see, meandering gently between immense rolling green mountains. But there were no animals. Then Charlie spotted a patch of snow against one of the mountain sides. As we flew closer, we could identify upwards of a thousand reindeer. These were descendants of reindeer who had been originally brought over from Russia around the turn of the century. The government of the time felt they could turn the Eskimos into useful reindeer herders. Of course it failed and most of the reindeer died. Costly efforts to re-establish the herds met with some success. Now they had seven large herds, each owned by a different Eskimo family. It was illegal for white people to own the reindeer. The herds were basically left to fend for themselves most of the year. When it was time to collect the velvet antlers for sale in Korea, they herded the reindeer into large corrals. From there they were run into narrow chutes where the still-growing velvet was sawn off. There was no anaesthetic and minimal concern for the welfare of the animals themselves. Broken legs were common as the animals scrambled over themselves in the tight space. They would have up to twenty percent mortality each time they ran the reindeer through the chutes. But, 'they were free from the government, so, what the heck!' As I heard one of the owners say later. It was so different from what I had seen in Norway and Sweden where the reindeer were venerated, if not loved, by the Saami.

I was taking photos and concentrating on the reindeer. After I had the shots I wanted I dropped the camera and looked forward. We were flying straight towards the sheer face of the mountain. I looked at Charlie, who, being such an excellent pilot, obviously knew what he was doing. So I said nothing. Probably, he was taking us in for a real close-up of some special site. I waited a little longer. I peeked over his shoulder. His head was down and he was intensely focused on something on his lap. I waited again. We still hadn't veered from our course in the slightest and the mountain was getting closer and closer. I felt a little foolish in that I still couldn't see what he was taking us in so close for. I tapped him on the shoulder to enlighten me, he turned his head, I pointed towards the propeller, he looked around then grabbed the stick and banked us as hard to the left as the plane could tolerate without stalling. I couldn't see how close we came because the floor of the plane was parallel to the side of the mountain and my face was pinned to the left side-screen by the G-forces. As we leveled out, flying away from the side of the hill, Charlie gave me the 'thumbs-up.' After he caught his breath, he volunteered, "Whew! That was a little close wasn't it? … Did you get the pictures okay, or did you want to go back?" I assured him I had all the close-ups of the mountain I needed.

"Maybe we should be heading back." I suggested. He checked his fuel gauge. Banged it a few times with his hand. "Yah, I think we've got enough fuel. These %$#* gauges never seem to work." As we neared the rendezvous we spotted a grizzly bear walking deliberately towards the airfield. About a mile further along, we passed directly overhead of the crew. They were marching in a line directly towards the bear. "Do you think we aught to warn them?" I asked. "Naw, they'll be alright, we'll just buzz the bear." Which we did. However, the bear never altered his course and, after we left, seemed a little angrier. We then circled the airfield and made our approach. Any landing you walk away from is a good landing and under this definition, it was a good landing. But one of the nearly bald tires burst upon touchdown and the plane spun around pivoting on the damaged strut, before coming to a halt. I guess old Charlie was a good pilot after all. I was just thankful I wasn't going to need his excellent services again. As for the rest of the crew, I fully expected to never see them again. That grizzly was angry and looked hungry. But, somehow they got wind of the bear or he of them. Anyhow, all survived. They returned about a half an hour later. I was just grateful to be on the ground, alive and in the truck, heading home.

"So, how'd you enjoy your flight?" Lyle asked eagerly as he got behind the wheel of the truck. I filled them in on the near-death experience. Smiles erupted all around. Sid, one of the crew, then spoke with a chuckle and a shake of his head. "That Charlie! He's quite a character. I don't know how many times he's almost crashed that plane. Too busy watching for animals. What I guy… But a great pilot though!" he ended seriously.

We arrived back in Nome sometime around midnight, grabbed something to eat and then hit the sack. I slept a little better that night. Next day we stayed close to home. I was scheduled to leave around four in the afternoon. I could see I wasn't going to find any fossils so Lyle and I walked into town. I wasn't too interested in doing any shopping but there was one store I wanted to check out before I left. Lyle stayed on the boardwalk as I went inside. I had to walk down a corridor about thirty feet long before entering the store. There on the counter I saw this perfectly preserved fossilized mammoth tooth. "What do you want for this ratty old tooth?" I enquired shrewdly of the proprietor. He looked at it, rubbed his chin, thought a bit, "Oh, I recken I'd sell it for about forty dollars." Since it would have cost me a lot more than forty dollars to fly back up to Alaska I made the deal. Pleased with myself I gathered my treasure and headed back towards the street. When I entered the darkened hallway I gazed out to the street. Lyle was sitting on his haunches. As I walked forward I could see a rather inebriated gentleman stumble up to Lyle. He paused for a moment, steadying himself against a pole. Lyle looked at his watch, spoke to the gentleman who thanked him profusely and stumbled off. After walking about ten feet he stopped, thought a moment, then stumbled back towards Lyle. He bent down, obviously asking another question. When he got his answer, he stiffened up, saluted unsteadily, and continued on his merry way.

"What was that?" I asked Lyle with a grin. "That was old Billy. He wanted to know the time. I told him it was two o'clock. He ambled off, then returned and asked "Ish dat two at night or inda afte'noon?"

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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