I saw some friends from veterinary school recently, and as we were catching up on memories of our school days, the conversation turned to talks about wanting to leave the field. One of my friends hopes she can find a way to work relief for just a few days a month. Another friend is a specialist who wants to get away from specialized medicine. I seemed to be the only veterinarian in this group of strong, intelligent women from my vet school class who still loved my job. They all asked the same question. “How do you still love being a veterinarian??” And I told them the story of the tail wag.

Our field is suffering, and there is not enough help to treat the animals in need. So emergency hospitals have been turning away patients in dire need of life-saving aid. This sad fact brought Layla into my hospital at 7 AM in November 2021. My manager came to me and said Layla was on her way in, she was not sure what was going on, but Layla’s mom was crying and worried she was dying.

When I first saw Layla, her emotional and exhausted mom held her in her arms and rocked her, knowing she was actively dying. You see, Layla started vomiting the day prior. Just a few times, but then she wouldn’t eat dinner. As the night progressed, Layla continued to vomit, and her mom knew something was very wrong. In the middle of the night, she drove from one emergency hospital to another, all night long, trying to find a veterinarian who could bring on one more very sick patient. Everyone was at capacity, so after hours of driving and calling hospitals, Layla and her mom returned home, knowing that Layla may not make it until we opened at 7 AM.

I honestly thought Layla had passed when I first saw her, but I took her from her mom’s arms, laid her on the treatment table, and saw Layla take a breath. She was alive! We had a chance. She was severely dehydrated and very cold, so our techs placed IV catheters and got to warm her up. We could not draw her blood due to the severe dehydration, so we could not run any tests to determine what was wrong. But she was breathing on her own, and I told her mom that we just had to get some fluids into her, get her temperature to register, and go from there.

I went to my other appointments and came back to check on Layla and her mom about an hour later. Her temperature was starting to rise, but she was still laterally recumbent, could not lift her head, and would not blink. I told mom that this would be a long day and maybe she should go home and sleep for a few hours while we continued with our basic care for Layla. As I told her mom that we just needed to see a little sign that Layla still wanted to fight, I saw Layla wag her tail. Just a little wag, underneath warming blankets and towels, but it was there—that little wag. I could cry thinking about it now, but I knew then Layla wanted to live, and she was ready to fight whatever came her way the next 24 hrs. 

As her temperature continued to rise into normal range and fluids were pumped into her veins, the tail was constantly wagging when we talked to Layla. She still couldn’t lift her head or stand or even move her legs nicely, but her tail was wagging. About 4 hours after we started treatment, we were able to run her blood and do further testing to find out Layla ingested a rock and developed acute renal failure from an intestinal obstruction. Layla went to surgery that day to remove the rock and spent the next four days in an emergency/overnight hospital to heal her kidneys and was eventually able to go home. I had never met Layla before that day. However, I knew she would forever be in my heart. 

Last month, I was running from appointment to appointment and just walked into my next room without knowing the patient’s name. I sit down to talk to the mom, and this little dog immediately comes up to me and is just so full of joy and happiness. I start petting her, and her tail is wagging so fast that I comment to mom about how I have never seen a dog show her joy so much through a tail. Her mom starts to cry and tells me that this is Layla. The little dog who I saw last year when she was dying. And as I watched her run around the room, greet all of us with an excessive amount of happiness, I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed too as I watched her tail wag. I will never forget her little wag that made me believe Layla would live. 

This is why I still love being a veterinarian.