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All in a Day's Work

After 32 years of veterinary practice I am still surprised at the variety of work my profession offers. Today, I am out of the office serving as “Veterinarian to the Stars,” or so I imagine. I have been hired by a film company to work as On-Set Veterinarian during the filming of a commercial. It’s been quite an experience!

My presence is required by the sponsor to ensure and certify that all animal actors are managed in a safe, healthful manner and that no harm comes to any of them during the production. Contract rules also require that a humane society representative and a professional animal trainer are also present on the set to ensure that the animals are cared for properly. Of course, the animals’ owner is also there.

My job consists largely of standing around and watching the scores of filmmakers and crew as they painstakingly attend to every conceivable detail. Scenes are sometimes filmed a dozen times, each with tiny variations needed to get the shot exactly right. I had no idea that shooting a TV commercial was such a complex task! There must be a hundred people on the set. There are six people whose sole job is to produce three layers of dust in the background!

My charges are three horses, two of which serve only as background scenery. The last horse, our “star,” actually interacts with the human “talent.” As far as I can see, the greatest threat to these animals’ well being is boredom. Fortunately, ample buckets of sweet feed are provided to keep them happy. About a dozen “unemployed” horses gather behind the fence, clearly wishing for their own fifteen minutes of fame. At one point, two of these horses push their way through the gate and into the filming area. What a couple of hams! Apparently, the invading equines are not in the union: Everything stops while they are escorted back to the pasture by Security.

Today’s shooting involves a helicopter, which buzzes around taking aerial shots from every possible angle - make that TWO helicopters. The choppers circle and zigzag and crisscross the area for a couple of hours. I find it astounding that so much effort can be reduced to a few seconds of film! I find myself wishing that certain friends would apply this principal to their vacation videos.

Most people believe veterinarians work primarily in private practice, and this is true for many of us. Companion animal practice represents a sizeable fraction of the veterinary workforce, but many veterinarians are involved in ambulatory practice, working out of a truck (a veterinary MASH unit) to provide care for horses or livestock. Reproductive practice is another important fraction of the workforce, attending the breeding and obstetric/pediatric care of horses or ensuring the orderly and regular reproduction of dairy cattle - who will not produce milk unless they are bred. Problems associated with birthing and milking represent a huge part of this form of practice. Another group of veterinarians manage reproduction of hogs and beef cattle. There is always plenty to do.

Even more “exotic” forms of veterinary practice include care of exotic and zoo animals, and academic practice including teaching and research work, as well as regulatory medicine. Few people are aware that veterinarians are deeply involved in both human and animal disease monitoring, and management of interstate and international transport of animals.

A surprisingly large number of veterinarians are employed as meat inspectors! These are the people who keep our food supply safe and protect us from Salmonella, E. coli, tuberculosis bacillus, and a huge variety of human pathogens. The military uses veterinarians as public health officers who oversee sanitation and food hygiene to prevent disease outbreaks and keep our troops healthy.

But today, for a few more minutes, I am the “Veterinarian to the Stars.” I’m enjoying my four-hour stint on set and will soon return to my office to write a letter certifying the safe and healthful care of the animals for which I am responsible. Already, I have several texts from my staff about patients requiring my attention, but I have enjoyed being out in the open air. Did I mention that the film company serves one heck of a free lunch? Life is tough sometimes.

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