Other segments from the episode on March 19, 2009
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A Veterinarian Advises How To 'Speak For Spot'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross.
If you have a pet, chances are, at some point, you are going to have to make
medical decisions far more difficult than the ones people had to make in the
past because there are more high-tech interventions for animal cancer, kidney
disease, brain tumors, et cetera. And the diagnostic procedures and treatments
My guest, Dr.Â Nancy Kay, is a veterinarian who co-founded a 24-hour emergency
and specialty care center in Northern California, where she treats cats and
dogs. Her new book, âSpeaking for Spot,â offers advice on how to make medical
decisions on behalf of your dog, including decisions about chemotherapy, pain
management and euthanasia.
Next week, sheâll receive the 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award at
the annual conference of the American Animal Hospital Association.
Dr.Â Nancy Kay, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, having a dog is so different
than it used to be, now that dogs get the same kind of high-tech screening and
therapies that people do - MRIs, ultrasound, chemotherapy, radiation therapy -
and itâs expensive.
Like, illnesses, if you want to treat them, cost a fortune now for dogs. Give
us an example, for instance, of what an MRI or an ultrasound costs for a dog.
Dr.Â NANCY KAY (Veterinarian; Author, âSpeaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your
Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Longer Lifeâ): Sure. An MRI scan is used very
commonly to diagnose spinal-cord disease. For example, dachshunds are prone to
slipped disks in their backs. Brain tumors are diagnosed with MRI scans, lung
tumors, and the average cost of an MRI scan, at least here in Northern
California, where the market may be a little bit more expensive than in other
areas, would be approximately $2,500.
Now by the time that dachshund had surgery on her back to go in and remove the
disk material, that may end up costing $6,000, $8,000.
GROSS: So if you want to have a dog, and you want to be a good human companion
to your dog, are you committing yourself to spending thousands and thousands of
dollars on dog health care when youâre in a position of hardly being able to
afford health care for yourself or your family?
Dr.Â KAY: Right. Itâs truly a relevant question today. Many people are
struggling to even come up with the money to come in for a basic office visit.
What I encourage people to do is to really lay their financial cards on the
table when talking with their veterinarians. The good news is in all but rare
circumstances, thereâs almost always more options than simply one option.
Rarely does it boil down to you have to do this $5,000 procedure or put your
dog to sleep. For example, the example I just mentioned, the dog with disk
disease, one could proceed surgically, or one could try medical therapy,
confining the dog and using anti-inflammatory medications - a far less
expensive approach. It may not be an approach that works as well, but itâs
certainly an option.
I talk more and more with people about the possibility of health insurance for
their pet, especially if theyâre of the frame of mind that they would want to
do anything and everything possible for their dog or cat if they get sick.
Then, health insurance might make a lot of sense.
An annual premium for a dog or cat is generally going to be in the neighborhood
of about $300 to $400. So you just have to do the math, and certainly just as
with human health insurance, itâs really going to pay if something catastrophic
GROSS: So are you finding thereâs more guilt with people who have â more
feelings of guilt with people who have dogs now, because sometimes theyâre
going to say no, I canât afford the treatment?
Dr.Â KAY: Yeah.
GROSS: And then you have to live with knowing that thereâs a treatment out
there for your dog or an MRI that your dog should probably have, but you donât
have the $2,000 or the $5,000 to spend.
Dr.Â KAY: Right. Itâs a fact of life. Thereâs guilt associated with all of our
economic problems right now, in every aspect of our lives, including trying to
provide what we want for our children, provide what we want for our pets. So
Iâm definitely seeing that trend.
Guilt is quite pervasive amongst my clients. Thereâs five normally accepted
stages of the grieving process. Many people begin grieving the minute they hear
that their pet is sick. It doesnât necessarily happen just after death.
And what I find with the clients that I counsel and work with, is in addition
to the five typical stages of grief, guilt is often a huge part of it - that
they didnât do enough, they didnât recognize things soon enough, they waited
Guilt is huge amongst people who are trying to be good advocates for their dogs
and their cats.
GROSS: Well, hereâs something thatâs a really difficult dilemma. If your dog is
already fairly old and has developed, say, cancer.
Dr.Â KAY: Yes.
GROSS: And you as the vet decide that, you know, there should be tests, and
then, you know, chemotherapy would likely help the dog, but itâs going to be
very expensive. So then the person whose dog it is has to decide, well, if the
dog is only going to live for, say, two or three more years under the best of
circumstances because theyâre already kind of old, is it worth the investment?
And then you hear yourself saying is my dog worth the investment, and you donât
want to be thinking that way, but you kind of have to if you donât have the
money to spend. How much money are you going to spend on a dog whoâs not going
to live many more years?
How do you help people figure through really complicated questions like that?
Dr.Â KAY: Yes, well one of the things that I work really hard on myself, and
when I lecture to other veterinarians, I avoid saying you should do
chemotherapy, you should take these X-rays, you should do surgery to remove the
What I view my job to be is to present every single option that I think is a
feasible option for the dog, that I think could make sense for the dog; spell
out all the different benefits and potential risks, educate the people as to
how much itâs going to cost; and let them decide, based on what they know about
their financial capabilities, and most importantly what they know to be true
about their dog, to make the best decision.
The whole goal of this medical advocacy is to make informed decisions. And with
having a lot of information and making an informed decision, the goal is to
come up with the very best choice thatâs hopefully going to provide the best
outcome for the dog or the cat. And secondly, and almost as important, is to
make a choice thatâs going to provide the most peace of mind for the human at
the other end of the leash or the person lugging the cat-carrier around.
When you mention age, many people often say, aw, heâs 12 years old. Iâm not
sure that I should do that. And one of the points that I always emphasize is,
rather than focusing on chronological age, I think itâs important to focus on
the functional age of the animal.
For example, Terry, you and I could both be 80-year-old women and both in need
of a knee replacement. You might be a great candidate for that surgery, where I
might be a horrible candidate for that surgery. In other words, thereâs no cut-
off to say that any woman over 80 years of age will not have a knee
So for example, a 12-year-old golden retriever, who up until a week ago was
going to the dog park and playing like a banshee and having a great old time,
might be a great candidate to go in and remove a tumor in the spleen. Whereas a
10-year-old dog, thatâs really been struggling and having a hard time getting
around, might be a poor candidate. Does that make sense?
GROSS: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. You know, the first time that I heard
that pets were getting chemotherapy and ultrasounds, I thought wow, thatâs
And then, you know, I â itâs just, itâs a fact of life, and itâs probably not
crazy. I mean, youâ¦
Dr.Â KAY: Itâs wonderful.
GROSS: You love your animals, and you want to do everything for them, but this
is kind of like revolution in veterinary medicine and in expectations of what
to expect to hear when you bring your animal to the vet. I feel like asking,
like how did that happen? When did it happen that all this high-tech medicine
entered veterinary medicine?
Dr.Â KAY: Oh, itâs been involving over the years, and in fact in some
circumstances, weâre even ahead of the human profession.
For example, weâre doing â weâre using stem cell therapy, regenerative
medicine, way ahead of the human field because there arenât all the moral
implications or religious-philosophical implications associated with doing so.
GROSS: So what are you doing with stem cell?
Dr.Â KAY: The most common use of stem cell therapy these days is in dogs with
arthritis. Itâs also used a lot in horses, but Iâm not as familiar with that.
Basically, with a surgical procedure, some fat cells are harvested from the
patient. Theyâre sent off to a company that creates regenerative cells that are
then infused back into the dog that manage to go into the joints and do some
Itâs proven to be wonderfully beneficial, and I think the applications are
going to be growing exponentially in the near future.
Youâre right. I think client expectations are changing dramatically. More and
more people expect to be part of the decision-making process. So that the way I
view it, is that as veterinarians we are part of the dogâs health-care team.
But really, the human involved in the dogâs life, the guardian of the pet, is
the team caption.
And so itâs a very different role than the typical, paternalistic, Marcus Welby
model of health-care provision.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is veterinarian Dr.Â Nancy Kay. Her new book is called âSpeaking
for Spot.â Weâll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is veterinarian Dr.Â Nancy Kay. Her
new book is called âSpeaking for Spot,â and itâs about how to be a good
advocate for your dog, and she is about to receive the 2009 Animal Welfare and
Human Ethics Award from the American Animal Hospital Association.
Whatâs chemo like for a cat or a dog? Do cats get chemo, too?
Dr.Â KAY: Yes, they do. I really like the ability to talk about this because
whenever I introduce the notion of chemotherapy to a client, the very next
sentence out of my mouth is: Chemotherapy is a whole lot different in dogs and
cats than it is in people.
Even though weâre using the exact same drugs, dogs and cats - itâs exceedingly
rare that thereâs hair loss, and the likelihood of getting sick from
chemotherapy is very low.
As frequently as people get sick from chemotherapy, thatâs as infrequent as
dogs and cats get sick from chemotherapy. The truth be told, Terry, if treating
â if the outcome of treating dogs and cats with chemotherapy was like it is in
people - all the vomiting, all the hair loss, all the misery - I think youâd
find very few veterinarians willing to do it.
GROSS: So what do you do to try to make the dogs youâre giving chemo to
Dr.Â KAY: Well, for my patients, thereâs a 10-cookie minimum per visit. So
thereâs lots of cookies.
GROSS: What kind of cookies?
Dr.Â KAY: Dog cookies, dog biscuits. So they get fed a lot of treats while
theyâre with us. The people who work in veterinary hospitals, the nurses, the
receptionists, theyâre not doing that work to get rich.
Nobodyâs getting rich doing that. They love dogs and cats. They just love âem.
And so an animal comes in, theyâre going to be pet by all kinds of people.
Theyâre going to get all kinds of treats, all kinds of baby talk and attention.
So theyâre treated very well. That being said, not all animals are suitable
candidates for chemotherapy. And whenever I counsel people about chemotherapy
protocols, we really take the animalâs personality into account.
For example, if a cat comes in and receives chemotherapy and then goes home and
hides under the bed for two days, thatâs not reasonable.
GROSS: Now I could see what you said with dogs, that youâre petting the dogs,
youâre talking to the dogs, youâre giving the dogs the cookies. The dogs are
kind of happy to be there.
Dr.Â KAY: Yeah.
GROSS: Cats Iâm not so sure. I mean, cats hate going â my cat, anyways - hates
going to the vet, hates being put in the carrier, knows thereâs something wrong
just when the carrier gets taken out.
Dr.Â KAY: Right. You have to sneak the carrier out, right? Otherwise, your catâs
going to disappear.
GROSS: And cats donât respond to treats the way dogs do, and they donât respond
to petting from strangers the way dogs do.
Dr.Â KAY: Right.
GROSS: So what can you do to make a catâs experience a positive experience?
Dr.Â KAY: Right. Occasionally, we have cats that are really outgoing in a
veterinary-hospital situation. In fact, one of the services we offer is an
underwater treadmill for rehabilitation therapy, where you fill up a â
basically, it looks like an aquarium fish tank - and fill it with water to let
the animal paddle in there to develop muscle strength, non-weight-bearing
We even have a couple of cats that do that. But youâre right, most cats are
stressed out by hospital visits. So for most cats, what we do is we give them
places away from barking dogs, and we give them things to hide in.
We have little cubbies they can hide in in their cage, and cats that are food-
motivated, they like to eat almost no matter where they are. So thereâs plenty
of food for them, as well.
GROSS: So what are your little cat hiding places like?
Dr.Â KAY: Theyâre kind of like big hats. Theyâre pouches, and theyâre made of
fleece and fluffy material, and they can crawl inside those.
GROSS: The one thing you point out in your book that I think is important to
mention is that, you know, dogs and cats donât know they have cancer, so
theyâre not living with the anxiety that the humans are.
Dr.Â KAY: Right. They have perfected the art of living in the moment.
GROSS: So they might be in discomfort, but theyâre not, like, worrying and
saying is this Stage 1 or Stage 2 of cancer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr.Â KAY: Exactly.
GROSS: Itâs just a different experience for an animal.
Dr.Â KAY: In fact, if I am treating an animal with chemotherapy, and I know the
cancerâs gone, and the client is telling me that the dog still seems kind of
droopy, I always ask: Is the dog sensing what youâre feeling?
When we treat â letâs say that we have a dog or a cat with lymphoma. Thatâs a
very treatable type of cancer, but we canât cure it. But what we can often
achieve is a year of really good quality time. Sometimes we get two years.
Sometimes we get three years.
So in screening whether or not this patient is suitable for chemotherapy, we
talk about the animalâs personality. We talk about the personâs philosophy
about treating cancer.
If theyâve just experienced the ravages of chemotherapy with a loved one, I can
reassure them about chemotherapy until Iâm blue in the face, but how can we
expect them to face the notion of chemotherapy again for any of their loved
We talk about the financial implications. We talk about will your work schedule
allow you to come back and forth as frequently as you need to? And then the
last thing that I address is will you enjoy the honeymoon?
Because weâre doing this to provide really good quality time for you to share
with your dog and cat. And if every waking hour is spent thinking about the
fact that your animal has cancer and at some point will succumb to that
disease, then should we really move forward?
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is veterinarian Dr.Â Nancy Kay, and
she has a new book called âSpeaking for Spot,â which is about how to be an
effective advocate for your dog when it comes to your dogâs health.
Now, pain management is a growing part of veterinary medicine, just as it is in
Dr.Â KAY: Yes.
GROSS: And I know, like, when you have a problem thatâs pain-related, and you
go to the doctor, you know, as a human being, the doctor asks you to rate your
pain scale on a one to 10, and I always think thatâs hard to do, but you do
You canât ask a dog or a cat to rate their pain. How do you evaluate how much
pain a dog or a cat is in, and do you find that animals express their pain
differently than humans do?
Dr.Â KAY: Yeah, thatâs â itâs so challenging, but we work really hard on it, and
Iâm really proud of our profession. Weâve come such a long way in terms of pain
Iâm kind of embarrassed to tell you, you know, I graduated veterinary school in
1982, and when we were doing, say spay and neuter procedures, we werenât
providing any pain medication routinely for those patients, which is appalling
for me to think about now.
What we do is, in our hospital setting, we actually have pain assessment every
two to four hours, depending on the patient.
The indicators that are the best indicators for dogs and cats, as to how
theyâre experiencing pain or whether theyâre experiencing pain, have to do with
heart rate, respiratory rate and blood-pressure measurements.
So those are some three very tangible things we can be measuring to assess
whether or not a patient is in pain. Sometimes we have to rely on giving pain
medication and then seeing if the patient behaves differently.
One of the things I always take into consideration is how does an animal show
that they have a headache? Letâs say that an animal has a tumor growing inside
its brain, well, it may have an awful headache. And that doesnât mean that the
patientâs vomiting or pointing to its head. Usually, thatâs an animal thatâs
becoming reclusive, not nearly as social as he used to be, going off into a
So Terry, this is one of the biggest challenges we face is to feel confident
that we are giving appropriate pain medications. But the field of pain
management has really expanded exponentially: acupuncture is used a lot for
pain management, all different types of medications that can be given at home
or in a hospital setting. Weâve come a long way.
GROSS: Is whimpering for a dog or meowing for a cat a sign of pain? Do you use
that when youâre assessing an animalâs pain?
Dr.Â KAY: If an animal has a broken leg or a slipped disk in the back, you may
be able to get them to vocalize when you press on that area. But especially for
internal types of pain, thereâs not going to be much whimpering or crying, and
people are often waiting to hear that. Dog owners, cat owners are often waiting
to hear that before they bring their animal into the veterinarian, or
especially before they consider euthanasia.
But dogs and cats donât necessarily manifest their pain by whimpering and
crying. This raises another point thatâs near and dear to my heart.
One of the most common questions that Iâm asked when people are trying to make
their end-of-life decisions for their pets - which is always so difficult -
they often ask, do you think that my dog or my cat is in pain? Because thatâs
the main criteria theyâre using to determine when itâs time to put their pet to
And animals donât necessarily have to be in pain to be suffering. What I
encourage people to think about is: consider the case of the flu. If youâre in
bed with the flu, how miserable you feel.
If you were to feel like that day after day after day, youâre suffering. Youâre
not in pain, but certainly thereâs a huge element of suffering there.
GROSS: What of the medications that you use when treating pain in an animal? Is
it the same as the human medication?
Dr.Â KAY: Yes, it is. Thereâs the narcotic classification of drugs, and then
thereâs a whole host of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medication, the
equivalent of ibuprofen for people.
That being said, the human non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications can be
very dangerous for dogs and cats. So you need to stick with the ones that are
formulated specifically for them.
GROSS: Dr.Â Nancy Kay will be back in the second half of the show. Her new book
about making medical decisions on behalf of your dog is called âSpeaking for
Spot.â Iâm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross, back with veterinarian Nancy Kay, author of
the book âSpeaking for Spot,â which offers advice on how to make medical
decisions on behalf of your dog. She treats cats and dogs at a 24-hour
emergency and specialty care center in Northern California, which she co-
founded. Iâm sure one of the most difficult questions youâre asked has to do
with one of the most difficult decisions any person with a pet has to make,
which is how do I know when itâs time, if itâs time, to put my pet to sleep.
What are some of the things you say to help one of your clients think through
that really difficult question?
Dr. KAY: Thereâs a few things I encourage them to think about. One of the
things that I recommended does your dog or cat still respond enthusiastically
to the things that would normally excite him, such as, if weâre talking about a
dog, the jingle of the car keys, if weâre talking about a cat, the can opener
opening the can of cat food. Is he excited by the sight of a tennis ball, or
dinnertime or the mention of his favorite words, the ones that you normally
would have to spell out in order to avoid getting him excited?
Do the good days still seem to outnumber the bad days? Thatâs real important.
And then something that sounds a little bit corny and itâs probably okay,
because Iâm in California, is to really go nose to nose and eyeball to eyeball
with your cat or dog and have a look in your catâs or dogâs eyes and see, is
that same spark that youâre used to still there? Sometimes that light flickers
a little bit. And if their eyes are looking dull over a period of days, and I
think that, too, is a really good indicator.
The key here is everybody wants to make the decision at just the right time.
They donât want to act prematurely. They donât want to do it too soon. But what
I tell my clients is is that some of the people who have the hardest time, who
come to my support group, are people who feel like they waited too long. So I
encourage people to avoid getting into that situation where theyâre going to
have guilt and regret that they really waited too long.
GROSS: Do they allow their pet to endure suffering that they didnât need to
Dr. KAY: Exactly.
GROSS: You have something in your book that I found so interesting, you say for
animals who hate going to the vet, taking them to the vet to be euthanized is
going to be just a horrible experience for them because theyâre going to die
with the anxiety that they haveâ¦
Dr. KAY: Yeah.
GROSS: â¦ for any vet visit. And you recommend asking the vet to euthanize the
animal in the car, if the car is a place they like. Like, a lot of dogs love
the car because it means theyâre going places. Have you done that, euthanized
animals in the car?
Dr. KAY: Oh, yes. Absolutely, I think people donât realize that thereâs a lot
of choices that they have in terms of the euthanasia process and how they want
to handle that. And one of the choices has to do with location. You donât want
the last minute of the animalâs life to be in a place where theyâre really
miserable. Now, if the animal is really weak and quite out of it, they may not
even recognize theyâre in a veterinary hospital setting.
But many dogs feel like their cars or their trucks are their second home. So
Iâm very happy to go out, enter the vehicle and perform the euthanasia there if
thatâs where the - my clients and their pets are most comfortable. And at-home
euthanasias are also an option, and many veterinarians will do that for their
clients. And if theyâre not available to do that, thereâs house call
practitioners thatâll go do that, as well.
GROSS: What are some of the things youâve seen people do to reassure their
animals as theyâre being euthanized?
Dr. KAY: Well, if theyâre still eating, thereâs a lot of food involved. Thereâs
a lot of stroking, a lot of loving, a lot ofâ¦
GROSS: Iâm surprised about the food because I would think that it would be
difficult, that it would make the process more difficult if an animal was
digesting in the process. Thatâs not a problem?
Dr. KAY: Well, have you ever been with an animal when itâs been euthanized?
GROSS: I havenât.
Dr. KAY: Okay, do you mind if I tell you what happens?
GROSS: No, please.
Dr. KAY: So, many people are surprised about really what a quick pain-free
simple process it appears to be. And itâs kind of shocking sometimes how quick
and simple it seems. What we do is we administer in the vein an injection
thatâs in essence an overdose of an anesthetic agent. And for all practical
purposes, it looks like the dog or cat is just going to sleep or going under
anesthesia. And typically, it all occurs within about 15 to 20 seconds after
administering the euthanasia solution.
So what we typically do, what I like to do is place a catheter in the vein. We
have a nice room with a couch where people can hang out, and spend time, and
feed cookies, and talk with their animals and spend as much time as they want
before the euthanasia. And then, typically, when Iâm administering the
euthanasia solution, theyâre stroking, theyâre patting, theyâre crying, theyâre
saying all the things that they really want to say to their dog or cat.
Iâm sorry, I get a little teary-eyed talking about it sometimes. And if itâs a
dog that loves its food, then theyâre feeding dog biscuits. So it all happens
very quickly. People are often surprised by how quickly it occurs.
GROSS: Is it hard for you to do it?
Dr. KAY: It is. It is difficult, but itâs just part of my job. And I know that
by being there, by being present and handling things in a very smooth gentle
fashion that Iâm making a very difficult situation for someone else a little
bit easier. Some patients get to me a whole lot more than others, patients that
I have known for years, or patients where I really know in my heart of hearts
what that bond is between them and their human.
So, sometimes itâs, sometimes it feels like a relief, you know, when an animal
is really suffering. Letâs say theyâre breathing or struggling to breathe and
they canât get enough oxygen, and you administer the euthanasia solution and
all that struggling goes away. And that feels like a huge relief. It really
does, as though Iâve been unburdened somehow and the people there have been
And I always tell people to stay as long as they like after the fact, because
quite honestly, it just looks like their dog or cat are peacefully sleeping.
And especially if an animal has been struggling, it can be a very peaceful time
GROSS: My guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay, author of âSpeaking for Spot.â
Weâll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay, author of the book âSpeaking for
Spot.â Weâve been talking about how you help people make tough decisions,
medical decisions about their animals. Youâve had a lot of animals yourself.
Dr. KAY: Yeah.
GROSS: And I know youâve had to make tough decisions about whether to do an
invasive procedure or just keep the dog as comfortable as possible, decisions
about whether it was time to put an animal to sleep or not. Tell us the story
of one of your pets who, one of your dogs who youâve had to make a tough
decision about whether to do - to move forward within an invasive procedure or
Dr. KAY: Sure. What I would probably do is tell you about Vinny, who is - he
was one of our dogs. He passed away just over a year ago - a silly, goofy,
lovable, wonderful golden retriever. And when he was eight years of age, my
husband, whoâs also a veterinarian, felt a lump on the top of his head and it
turned out to be a tumor that involved his skull bone. And the decision needed
to be made, do we go ahead and try to remove that tumor?
And he had no symptoms whatsoever. And if we removed the tumor, then there was
chance that we would be able to cure the disease, or at least prevent it from
progressing as rapidly as it would otherwise, because as this skull tumor would
grow, it would compress on his brain, and weâd end up with some neurological
symptoms. Well, we decided to proceed with the surgery. To us that was - no pun
intended â a no-brainer. And the surgery was wonderfully successful.
They removed what they thought probably was 95 percent of the tumor. And they
had to remove a small portion of his brain. And for a golden retriever that
might not be all that much of an issue.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. KAY: But - and he went on and did great and was doing his usual Tigger
routines, jumping up and flying through the air one day and tore his cruciate
ligament, thatâs a ligament in the knee that large breed dogs are very
predisposed to tearing. Well, then we had decide, do we do this knee surgery on
him? We donât know if the skull tumorâs going to grow back, but heâs going to
be a very lame dog if we donât do the surgery.
That was a little bit of a tough decision. And we did - we took our chances, we
did the surgery. And he did great for another year before, yet, a different
type of cancer caught up with him.
GROSS: And that cancer, were you able to do anything about that?
Dr. KAY: No, that was the life-ending cancer. He had a tumor on the base of his
heart that we werenât able to fix. But the knee surgery in particular was
challenging because we really didnât know if another major surgical procedure
was worthwhile, if indeed, within a few months the tumor affecting the brain
would grow back.
GROSS: So when you found out that your dog Vinny had a fatal form of cancerâ¦
Dr. KAY: Yeah.
GROSS: Did you immediately put him to sleep?
Dr. KAY: His situation, believe it or not, made our decision-making a little
bit easier because his cancer caused bleeding into the pericardial sac around
his heart, which is a situation that a dog really canât live with. And so he
went from being a dog that was normal and active to being a dog that couldnât
walk, couldnât get up, was struggling to breathe. It was one of those
situations where we really knew that we had no choice.
And as we typically do, my husband and I trade off whoâs going to be the one
holding, whoâs going to be the one administering the injection. I will say that
I keep expecting it to get easier, but it seems to, in fact, get a little bit
harder each and every time.
GROSS: Which is the harder part for you, holding or injecting, or are they both
Dr. KAY: Theyâre both equally hard. The holding is hard because youâre so
connected with whatâs happening with your animal. The injecting is hard because
you canât participate in the emotional aspect of it quite as much.
GROSS: When you lost your dog, when you put your dog to sleep, how long did it
take before you wanted to adopt a new dog?
Dr. KAY: I really like this question because people often feel uncomfortable
trying to figure out when to get their next dog.
GROSS: Itâs so true, I know.
Dr. KAY: Because one family member might say, letâs go get a dog tomorrow, and
another person it might take a whole year before theyâre ready. My husband and
I, we had two dogs and they both died within six months of each other and we
were dogless for the first time in 30 years.
And we, neither of us were really ready to get another dog. And then it just so
happened that a little stray came into my hospital one day. She was dirty,
smelly, skinny, she had horrible skin disease, she was in heat. The
receptionist brought her back to our treatment room holding her well away from
her body because she looked so gnarly and grungy. And there was just something
about her eyes, and I took her home. And, in fact, sheâs the dog thatâs on the
back cover of my book. Her name is Nelly. And sheâs been a wonderful fit with
GROSS: Oh, I have to look.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Oh, sheâs adorable.
Dr. KAY: She is. Sheâs a little doll.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Okay. So, you must beâ¦
Dr. KAY: So we ended up getting a dog within about a month of losing our two
GROSS: Okay, and Vinny, the dog you were describing losing was a golden
retriever. He was a big dog and this is a little dog.
Dr. KAY: Yeah.
GROSS: Have you had little dogs before?
Dr. KAY: No, weâve gone little. Both of our current dogs are little dogs and
itâs really rather fun.
GROSS: What are some of the differences for you between a big and a small dog?
Dr. KAY: Bending down a lot more.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. KAY: You know, golden retrievers are often pretty simple-minded dogs. The
dogs Iâve had in the past have always been very, whatever you want mom, Iâll be
the perfect dog. And little dogs, you know, they - I think they in general can
be a little bit more intelligent about things and manipulating their moms and
dads. And so these two have been a little bit more of a challenge to train.
Gross: Can you talk a little bit about bedside manner as a veterinarian? Like
when youâre dealing with â you work with cats, too, right, or just dogs?
Dr. KAY: Oh yes.
GROSS: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about bedside manner as a veterinarian?
When youâre dealing with a new cat or dog, whose personality you donât yet
know, how do you introduce yourself and make yourself as non-threatening as
possible to the animal?
Dr. KAY: Well, when I walk in the room, what I do to begin with, is I make
contact with the client. And so I will introduce myself and shake their hand.
And in the course of that 10, 15-second interaction, I know exactly what the
personality of that animal is like. I liken it to probably a kindergarten
teacher, you know, on her very first day of class. I would venture to guess by
the end of that first class, she pretty well has each of her students pegged.
So just by looking, you get a sense of what that animal wants. And if itâs a
typical lab, the labâs going to be jumping all over you and very excited to see
you. If itâs a dog thatâs avoiding eye contact, then you know that you need a
much softer approach. So I do not at all have the animal up on the exam room
table until after Iâve introduced myself. Iâve greeted the animal if they want
to be greeted, and then Iâve spent about 10 or 15 minutes talking to the client
about what brings them in with their pet that day.
And I encourage them to - people to take their dogs off leash, or let the cat
just wander around the room because Iâm sitting down taking a medical history.
And during that time, the cat or the dog is sort of investigating me, checking
me out. And usually then theyâre much more receptive to me getting personal
GROSS: My cat was once so upset at the vet and she was kind of fighting so hard
that they put a little, like, pussycat straightjacket on her as a restraint.
Dr. KAY: Oh yeah.
GROSS: Do you ever use restraining devices on the animals?
Dr. KAY: Not so much. You know, we have a lot of really good chemical
restraint. I donât like using what we call brute-acaine, which is, you know, a
kind of brute force to hold an animal down. When I was in veterinary school, I
love horses, and I went to veterinary school thinking I would become an equine
practitioner. And then when I got in the stalls with some pretty hostile
horses, I thought, what am I, nuts?
People could easily get hurt, you know. Youâre putting a twitch on the horseâs
nose or grabbing the horseâs ear and then trying to do very painful things to
them. I mean, truly, it was a physically dangerous profession. And then over
the years, thereâs been a lot more chemical restraint.
The type of restraint that would be like a quick fix of Valium that you could
then take away. So basically what I do is if I have a cat that is really
stressed, I could hold your cat down, but why do that? Why make your cat so
stressed? Why not give your cat the equivalent of a couple of martinis so that
she doesnât really care what weâre doing.
GROSS: Now, I want to end by asking you about the cover photo on your book
âSpeaking for Spot,â the cover dog.
Dr. KAY: Sandy.
GROSS: Because thereâs a nice story behind that. Tell us the story of this dog.
Dr. KAY: Sure. Sandy was brought in as a stray to The Marin Humane Society.
Marin County is just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. And Sandy was one of the
first dogs in the pen pal program. What the pen pal program is is itâs a
relationship between a Marin Humane Society and San Quentin State Penitentiary.
When The Marin Humane Society has dogs come in that need training and
socialization, this sounds a little ironic I know, or theyâre recovering from
some sort of disease, theyâll send these dogs over to San Quentin State Prison
to work with prisoners.
And the prisoners, itâs a real privilege for them to be able to work with these
dogs. They work on training them and socializing them. In Sandyâs case, she was
recovering from heartworm disease, so she had to be kept quite quiet. And she
was just a crazy girl. She was wild with no manners. So she joined up with an
inmate who taught her, I believe, 14 different commands. One of the commands
was stay and the release from the stay command was the word parole.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I like that.
Dr. KAY: And Sandy and her inmate managed to be released from San Quentin at
the same time, and they actually lived together for about a year. And then that
fellow had to move back east because of a death in the family and was unable to
take Sandy with him. So Sandy went back to the Marin Humane Society and was
adopted by a wonderful family who live in Marin County.
And I â Sandyâs come to a number of my local book signings. The only quibble I
have with her is sheâs about 10 pounds overweight, and I keep talking to her
mom and dad about that.
GROSS: Well, thatâs such a great story. Dr. Kay, itâs been great talking with
you. Thank you so much for talking with us.
Dr. KAY: Thank you.
GROSS: Dr. Nancy Kay is the author of âSpeaking for Spot.â Sheâs an internist
at the animal care center in Rohnert Park, California. Next week sheâll receive
the 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award at the annual conference of the
American Animal Association.
Coming up, we listen back to an interview with actress Natasha Richardson. She
died yesterday after suffering head injuries in a skiing accident. This is
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
An Archival Interview With Natasha Richardson
TERRY GROSS, host:
The actress Natasha Richardson died yesterday after suffering a head injury in
a skiing accident Monday. And it seems so wrong and so sad. She was 45. As
Bruce Weber writes in Richardsonâs New York Times obituary, she was quote, âan
intense and absorbing actress, unafraid of taking on demanding and emotionally
raw roles. She was admired on both sides of the Atlantic for upholding the
traditions of one of the great acting families of the modern age,â unquote. Her
grandfather was Sir Michael Redgrave, her mother is Vanessa Redgrave, her
father, the late director Tony Richardson. The husband she leaves behind is a
great actor too, Liam Neeson.
Natasha Richardson was in mainstream movies like âThe Parent Trapâ and in more
unconventional films like âPatty Hearstâ and âThe Comfort of Strangers.â She
won a Tony in 1998 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the musical âCabaret.â
Weâre going to listen back to an excerpt of our 1992 interview.
What was it like to see your mother, Vanessa Redgrave, on stage or screen when
you were growing up?
Ms. NATASHA RICHARDSON (Actor): Well, I didnât see her much on stage because at
that period of her life I donât think she was on stage much. I think it had a
profound effect on me. I took it very real, but not only because sheâs such a
great actress, but, you know, when Iâd see her as Isadora, you know, die at the
end, Iâd get doubly upset.
And my mother would say, no, itâs okay, Iâm here. And Iâd say, well, I know
youâre here, but itâs a true story, and that really happened and itâs really
upsetting me. But I just love, you know, I just loved watching her movies. I
loved - Iâve always been, you know, I could eat movies for breakfast, lunch and
dinner. I mean, I need them like a drug.
And I used to watch always old Judy Garland movies, and Marilyn Monroe movies
and Katherine Hepburn, all - mostly old Hollywood musicals, but those were the
kind of movies that I was brought up on.
GROSS: When you went to acting school, did being from one of Englandâs first
families of acting affect the expectations if you didnât make it?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Well, I went - I was very concerned about, like, that. And like
most young people, I was determined to make it on my own. And I realized that
my parents having certain connections werenât going to help me in any immediate
way, whether I have wanted them to. You know, when youâre a young actress
starting out at drama school in England and what you need to do is get a job in
the regional theater, it doesnât help much to have met Jack Nicholson, you
So I went out of my way to hide what my family background was when I auditioned
for drama school, and they didnât find out. I had had to audition three times,
and they didnât find out until I got in because Richardson is a common name,
unlike Redgrave. And I think it was the voice teacher who found out, who one
day said to me just after the first semester had started, she said, I recognize
certain notes in your voice, and you any relation to Vanessa? And thatâs how
they found out. And I was thrilled that they didnât know because then I
thought, well, I was accepted on my own terms.
GROSS: The two of the movies Iâve seen you in âPatty Hearstâ and âThe Comfort
of Strangersâ were directed by Paul Schrader.
Ms. RICHARDSON: Yes.
GROSS: Now, how did he first cast you? Because I think he - I think âPatty
Hearstâ was your first movie.
Ms. RICHARDSON: No, âPatty Hearstâ wasnât my first movie. It was my first
American movie and it was the first - it was kind of my big break movie.
GROSS: Oh, thatâs right, you had been in âGothicâ before that.
Ms. RICHARDSON: I had been in âGothicâ before that, and Iâd also done another
movie. But it was, I think seeing âGothicâ that gave Paul the idea that he
wanted me to play Patty and so thatâs what happened. He called me up and I was
in a show in London, I was playing Tracy Lords in the musical comedy on stage
of âHigh Society.â And so he came and saw the show, and he screen tested me and
several nail-biting weeks later, I found out that I had the part.
GROSS: You spend a lot of time in the movie locked in a closet and, you know,
youâre â youâre occasionally let out. Did Paul Schrader as a director want to
do anything to you to get you that claustrophobic feeling and the kind of
paranoid shut-off feeling that you would adopt?
Ms. RICHARDSON: He didnât have to do anything. I was feeling that way already.
I mean, he started the movie by doing a weekâs rehearsal in San Francisco with
all the SLA members, the actors playing the SLA members and myself. And we all
had to live in this trashed apartment with practically no running water or
whatever for a week. And all sleeping on sleeping bags on the floor and kind of
living that life.
And I thought, whoa, who is this guy? Is he going to, you know, make some
method situation happen here where Iâm going to get raped or something?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RICHARDSON: And so I had various numbers of friends in San Francisco to
call in case anything got out of hand. But it didnât. But I can just tell you
that just being, albeit for a few hours, and occasionally being able to take
the blindfold and the handcuffs off, just the process of being like that makes
you feel dehumanized and oversensitive. When youâre blindfolded, somebody just
has to touch your arm and you jump. So it wasnât too much of a stretch of the
imagination to get where she was, you know.
GROSS: Your mother is an actress, your father was a director. Did you get
advice from either of them? And was the advice different because they had
different jobs within theater?
Ms. RICHARDSON: I would say generally I wouldnât get much advice from my
mother, except in terms of approach to work when I started out. Her father,
when she was in drama school, introduced her to the works of Stanislavski,
which in England were shied away from and even frowned on and are, really, to
some extent, to this day. And so she in turn introduced me to his works when I
was at drama school. So that - they really affected me in how I work.
I think I did have a lot of advice from my father. He was the person whoâs
advice and criticism I most respected and trusted because not only was he my
father, but he was a great director and he was a very harsh critic. So I knew
when he said not good enough, that it wasnât. And I also knew when he said,
yes, now youâre there, thatâs great. I knew that that was praise indeed.
GROSS: You said that Stanislavski was frowned on, and to some extent, still is
in England, for what reason?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Because I think people in England are generally taught to act
rather than be, if you know what I mean by the difference. Thereâs a certain -
they sort of frown on what they call, you know, what they think of as the
method. And, you know, they think itâs all pretend and you canât really be it,
you know. And they get frightened of that - of that method and that approach.
And I have a hard time with that because, sure, you know, actors need, or
sometimes need technique, but it has to come from inside. Itâs the way I work.
And I donât say itâs the only way, but I think thatâs the surest way to the
truth, which is what itâs all about.
GROSS: Natasha Richardson recorded in 1992. She died yesterday at the age of 45
after suffering a head injury in a skiing accident Monday.
Iâm Terry Gross.
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