Visiting Vet: Let’s try happy

May 2024 be a year filled with “zoomies” for you.

Dogs that get the zoomies may just need more exercise. —Kojirou Sasaki

It’s January. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, but if I had to pick one for 2024, it’s simply this: Happy New Year. Happy.

I come from a family and a culture that tends to focus on the sad and the negative. Yiddish music, mostly in minor keys, is full of lamenting. Even the happy songs sound melancholy. Even our food is somehow sorrowful. Think about it. Gefilte fish. Chopped liver. Delicious … with a soupçon of sadness. I believe this glass-half-empty attitude is a defense mechanism developed over millennia. It helps us avoid disappointment and stay alert for things like, you know, pogroms and the Spanish Inquisition.

In addition to my genetic predisposition for pessimism, I work in a profession fraught with pain and loss. It’s not all puppies and kittens, folks. It’s disease, suffering, and financial limitations. It’s denial, bargaining, death, and dying. Here on the Vineyard, it’s limited access to veterinary specialists and emergency services. To reduce the isolation, I belong to a lot of Facebook veterinary groups. Vets who are moms. Vet moms with neurodiverse kids. Vets who are solo doctors. Jewish vets. Old vets. Small-town vets. I learn so much in these groups, discussing cases, medical practices, new products, business management, as well as giving and receiving support with personal issues. But about a month ago I snoozed all these groups for 30 days. I needed a break from reading every sad story, every case gone wrong, every unintentional mistake, every work-related conflict. I needed … happy. Then, when the 30 days were up and my groups reappeared, the first thing I read made me … happy.

It was an article from the Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center, titled, “What are zoomies? Your dog isn’t crazy, they’re just having fun.” It amused me no end to learn that some veterinarian somewhere decided we needed a scientific name for the zoomies. You know, when Speedy Spaniel goes racing madly around the backyard, bouncing off furniture, or spinning in circles? It’s officially called frenetic random activity periods (FRAPS). Seriously? (Insert facepalming emoji here.) 

According to specialists, there is no “specific cause” for the zoomies other than built-up energy and excitement, perhaps the result of boredom and/or lack of stimulation. I doubt any seasoned pet owner needed a specialist to tell them this. Zoomies are fun. Zoomies are happy. Zoomies make great TikTok videos. But zoomies can also be a message. If Speedy Spaniel gets the zoomies a lot, he may be telling you he needs more exercise, more interaction. He may be saying, “I’m bored. I’m frustrated. Play with me.” This is particularly true for young dogs and those of particular breeds — breeds that need jobs. Border collies, Australian shepherds, cattle dogs. Siberian huskies. If you want a couch-potato pup, don’t get a dog that was bred to pull a sled in the Iditarod, or to round up cattle in the Australian Outback.

For those of you like us old folks who got left with a young, energetic dog when the kid went off to college, I highly recommend a toy called the HurriK9. It’s advertised as “the world’s coolest dog toy,” I have to agree. It’s a big plastic apparatus that launches large EVA foam or spandex rings quite a distance with minimal effort. I can stand at my back door and shoot rings across the yard for our pup to retrieve, giving her plenty of fun and exercise even when I don’t have much time or energy myself. This makes her happy which makes me … happy.

Other things that make me happy? A dog named Zoozle. I like his name. I like the dog. I like that I have taken care of generations of dogs for generations of this family. Younger veterinarians are not so lucky these days. With the escalating standard of care, corporatization of veterinary medicine, shortage of veterinarians, and an increasingly litigious society, they are in a bind. I see them posting such difficult stories about overwork, angry clients, and impossible demands in this new landscape, where they often do not get to experience the fulfillment that comes with long-term relationships with clients and patients. Community. Community makes me happy. I like getting email from Zoozle’s owner reporting that the old boy has responded well to Librela — a new once-a-month injection for treatment of arthritis-related pain. Zoozle chased a squirrel for the first time in years after getting his first dose. Which brings us back to the zoomies. It’s important in elderly dogs to reintroduce exercise gradually. Apparently a fair number of Librela recipients feel so good they end up racing around and injuring themselves. That does not make anyone happy.

Holiday cards with goofy photos of pets make me happy. ( I’m looking at you, Parko, Angelo, Gabby, Orchid, Reid, and Martin.) Penny delivering Christmas pizzelle to my door year after year makes me happy, but also makes me miss Barbara Prada. She celebrated every Hanukkah by bringing us homemade Key lime cheesecake. I’m grateful I have her recipe. Thank you, everyone, who brought chocolates, scones, zucchini bread, and cookies. Who sent holiday cards, thank-you cards, and get-well wishes. To the family that brought us flowers in memory of Churchill, and the family that made me a beautiful wooden cheese board complete with paw-print inlays in memory of C.J. and Angel Grace. Thank you.

But it’s not the food or gifts that make me happy. It’s what these thoughtful tokens represent — that we are making a difference. Years back, when all the big, fancy veterinary practices were coming up with “mission statements,” I decided ours was simple: “Helping pets and people.” My personal mission statement for 2024 is also simple. Happy. Despite all the hard things. Despite my gloomy nature. Despite gefilte fish. Happy. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” Any joyful dog with the zoomies can lead the way.