My Cats Made Me a Better Doctor

I adopted my first cat, Oscar, right before starting internship. He was a tiny kitten, just learning the world, a stray cat picked up from a local park by a friend. We both were in new surroundings, exploring with excitement and trepidation, learning how far we could leap without falling.
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Come out, Pedro!

“Pedro, come out!”

It’s three years ago, and my father is on his hands and knees, peering under the bed, where the cat has hidden. My daughter is two and loves animals, but Pedro–a fluffy, ten-year old house cat–has decided he doesn’t want to play with her. He has retreated to safety back in the dark underbelly of the bed. The two humans crouch down together, side by side, toddler copying grandfather: “Come out, Pedro! Come out! Everything will be fine! Pedro, come out!”

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In the summer of 1972, I worked for an oncologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, assisting with research and animal care, and drawing blood on cancer patients. My boss was working on what was then called granulopoietin, a substance that helps white blood cells recover after chemotherapy-induced marrow suppression. He took bone marrow from dogs under general anesthesia and then sampled their blood daily to identify and extract this substance. One such dog was “9557,” a border collie who had lived at the lab’s animal facility for two years; they kept careful records and knew he had been a two-year-old stray when this

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My dog Ichi (rhymes with Peachy) reminds me of God, and I mean no disrespect to God. The willingness to love each person totally, in the moment, completely and sincerely, is the defining trademark of both Ichi and God.

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The Photo Gallery

By the time I met Leslie, Huntington’s Disease had wreaked its havoc: every part of her body jerked and twisted uncontrollably, robbing her of the ability to walk or speak. But that didn’t stop her from communicating, and she came as close to talking as she was able when she saw me, along with my dog Kobe. Following some very animated but indecipherable sounds, she used sign language to make herself understood. Her rocking motion let me know that she wanted to cradle Kobe in her lap.
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I used to always walk in the woods

      before I became crippled.

            — from a dying woman 

I respond to a ranch house at twilight. An old woman is dying from metastatic lung cancer, vomiting blood. In between episodes of dry heaving and spitting dark clots, she reaches her hand out, sometimes grabbing my arm, other times involuntarily seeking the sky. We both know what her family refuses to see: she will be dead in a few hours. 

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Destiny and the Socks

“Destiny, look!” I threw a ball of black socks in our orange tabby cat’s direction. He examined the socks quizzically for a moment, until their scent hit his nostrils. Then the corners of his mouth turned upward and his expression revealed great happiness. He buried his nose in the socks before batting them around and around the kitchen.
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Canine Comfort

According to family legend, my mother took me for a walk in my stroller on one of those dog days of summer–high humidity, flopping flowers, lackadaisical leaves. I was happily singing along with the birds when a neighbor’s demonic dog rushed my stroller and tried to Eskimo-kiss me with its snout. I screamed, the dog howled, and thus began my lifelong fear of all furry, four-legged Fidos.

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