Skip to main content

A Veterinarian Advises How To 'Speak For Spot'

Navigating the world of veterinary medicine can be daunting, but one veterinarian believes she can help. Nancy Kay, a veterinarian with 20 years of experience, is the author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Longer Life.


Other segments from the episode on March 19, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 19, 2009: Interview with Dr. Nancy Kay; Obituary for Natasha Richardson.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
A Veterinarian Advises How To 'Speak For Spot'


This is FRESH AIR. I’m 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
are expensive.

My guest, Dr. 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, “Speaking for Spot,” offers advice on how to make medical
decisions on behalf of your dog, including decisions about chemotherapy, pain
management and euthanasia.

Next week, she’ll receive the 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award at
the annual conference of the American Animal Hospital Association.

Dr. 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 it’s 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. NANCY KAY (Veterinarian; Author, “Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your
Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Longer Life”): 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 you’re in a position of hardly being able to
afford health care for yourself or your family?

Dr. KAY: Right. It’s 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, there’s 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 it’s
certainly an option.

I talk more and more with people about the possibility of health insurance for
their pet, especially if they’re 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, it’s really going to pay if something catastrophic

GROSS: So are you finding there’s more guilt with people who have – more
feelings of guilt with people who have dogs now, because sometimes they’re
going to say no, I can’t afford the treatment?

Dr. KAY: Yeah.

GROSS: And then you have to live with knowing that there’s a treatment out
there for your dog or an MRI that your dog should probably have, but you don’t
have the $2,000 or the $5,000 to spend.

Dr. KAY: Right. It’s a fact of life. There’s 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
I’m definitely seeing that trend.

Guilt is quite pervasive amongst my clients. There’s five normally accepted
stages of the grieving process. Many people begin grieving the minute they hear
that their pet is sick. It doesn’t 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 didn’t do enough, they didn’t recognize things soon enough, they waited
too long.

Guilt is huge amongst people who are trying to be good advocates for their dogs
and their cats.

GROSS: Well, here’s something that’s a really difficult dilemma. If your dog is
already fairly old and has developed, say, cancer.

Dr. 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 it’s 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 they’re already kind of old, is it worth the investment?

And then you hear yourself saying is my dog worth the investment, and you don’t
want to be thinking that way, but you kind of have to if you don’t have the
money to spend. How much money are you going to spend on a dog who’s not going
to live many more years?

How do you help people figure through really complicated questions like that?

Dr. 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 it’s 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 that’s hopefully going to provide the best
outcome for the dog or the cat. And secondly, and almost as important, is to
make a choice that’s 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, he’s 12 years old. I’m 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 it’s 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, there’s 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, that’s 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, that’s

And then, you know, I – it’s just, it’s a fact of life, and it’s probably not
crazy. I mean, you…

Dr. KAY: It’s 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. KAY: Oh, it’s been involving over the years, and in fact in some
circumstances, we’re even ahead of the human profession.

For example, we’re doing – we’re using stem cell therapy, regenerative
medicine, way ahead of the human field because there aren’t all the moral
implications or religious-philosophical implications associated with doing so.

GROSS: So what are you doing with stem cell?

Dr. KAY: The most common use of stem cell therapy these days is in dogs with
arthritis. It’s also used a lot in horses, but I’m not as familiar with that.
Basically, with a surgical procedure, some fat cells are harvested from the
patient. They’re 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
magic there.

It’s proven to be wonderfully beneficial, and I think the applications are
going to be growing exponentially in the near future.

You’re 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 dog’s health-care team.
But really, the human involved in the dog’s life, the guardian of the pet, is
the team caption.

And so it’s a very different role than the typical, paternalistic, Marcus Welby
model of health-care provision.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay. Her new book is called “Speaking
for Spot.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay. Her
new book is called “Speaking for Spot,” and it’s 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.

What’s chemo like for a cat or a dog? Do cats get chemo, too?

Dr. 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 we’re using the exact same drugs, dogs and cats - it’s exceedingly
rare that there’s hair loss, and the likelihood of getting sick from
chemotherapy is very low.

As frequently as people get sick from chemotherapy, that’s as infrequent as
dogs and cats get sick from chemotherapy. The truth be told, Terry, if treating
– 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 you’d
find very few veterinarians willing to do it.

GROSS: So what do you do to try to make the dogs you’re giving chemo to

Dr. KAY: Well, for my patients, there’s a 10-cookie minimum per visit. So
there’s lots of cookies.

GROSS: What kind of cookies?

Dr. KAY: Dog cookies, dog biscuits. So they get fed a lot of treats while
they’re with us. The people who work in veterinary hospitals, the nurses, the
receptionists, they’re not doing that work to get rich.

Nobody’s getting rich doing that. They love dogs and cats. They just love ‘em.
And so an animal comes in, they’re going to be pet by all kinds of people.
They’re going to get all kinds of treats, all kinds of baby talk and attention.

So they’re 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 animal’s 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, that’s not reasonable.

GROSS: Now I could see what you said with dogs, that you’re petting the dogs,
you’re talking to the dogs, you’re giving the dogs the cookies. The dogs are
kind of happy to be there.

Dr. KAY: Yeah.

GROSS: Cats I’m not so sure. I mean, cats hate going – my cat, anyways - hates
going to the vet, hates being put in the carrier, knows there’s something wrong
just when the carrier gets taken out.

Dr. KAY: Right. You have to sneak the carrier out, right? Otherwise, your cat’s
going to disappear.

GROSS: And cats don’t respond to treats the way dogs do, and they don’t respond
to petting from strangers the way dogs do.

Dr. KAY: Right.

GROSS: So what can you do to make a cat’s experience a positive experience?

Dr. 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 –
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
muscle strength.

We even have a couple of cats that do that. But you’re 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 there’s plenty
of food for them, as well.

GROSS: So what are your little cat hiding places like?

Dr. KAY: They’re kind of like big hats. They’re pouches, and they’re 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 don’t know they have cancer, so
they’re not living with the anxiety that the humans are.

Dr. KAY: Right. They have perfected the art of living in the moment.

GROSS: So they might be in discomfort, but they’re not, like, worrying and
saying is this Stage 1 or Stage 2 of cancer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. KAY: Exactly.

GROSS: It’s just a different experience for an animal.

Dr. KAY: In fact, if I am treating an animal with chemotherapy, and I know the
cancer’s gone, and the client is telling me that the dog still seems kind of
droopy, I always ask: Is the dog sensing what you’re feeling?

When we treat – let’s say that we have a dog or a cat with lymphoma. That’s a
very treatable type of cancer, but we can’t 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 animal’s personality. We talk about the person’s philosophy
about treating cancer.

If they’ve just experienced the ravages of chemotherapy with a loved one, I can
reassure them about chemotherapy until I’m 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 we’re 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 you’re just joining us, my guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay, and
she has a new book called “Speaking for Spot,” which is about how to be an
effective advocate for your dog when it comes to your dog’s health.

Now, pain management is a growing part of veterinary medicine, just as it is in
human medicine.

Dr. KAY: Yes.

GROSS: And I know, like, when you have a problem that’s 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 that’s hard to do, but you do
your best.

You can’t 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. KAY: Yeah, that’s – it’s so challenging, but we work really hard on it, and
I’m really proud of our profession. We’ve come such a long way in terms of pain

I’m 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 weren’t
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
they’re experiencing pain or whether they’re 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? Let’s say that an animal has a tumor growing inside
its brain, well, it may have an awful headache. And that doesn’t mean that the
patient’s vomiting or pointing to its head. Usually, that’s an animal that’s
becoming reclusive, not nearly as social as he used to be, going off into a
quiet room.

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. We’ve come a long way.

GROSS: Is whimpering for a dog or meowing for a cat a sign of pain? Do you use
that when you’re assessing an animal’s pain?

Dr. 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, there’s 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 don’t necessarily manifest their pain by whimpering and
crying. This raises another point that’s near and dear to my heart.

One of the most common questions that I’m 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 that’s
the main criteria they’re using to determine when it’s time to put their pet to

And animals don’t necessarily have to be in pain to be suffering. What I
encourage people to think about is: consider the case of the flu. If you’re in
bed with the flu, how miserable you feel.

If you were to feel like that day after day after day, you’re suffering. You’re
not in pain, but certainly there’s 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. KAY: Yes, it is. There’s the narcotic classification of drugs, and then
there’s 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. 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 “Speaking for
Spot.” I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with veterinarian Nancy Kay, author of
the book “Speaking for Spot,” 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. I’m sure one of the most difficult questions you’re 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 it’s time, if it’s 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: There’s 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 we’re talking about a
dog, the jingle of the car keys, if we’re 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? That’s real important.
And then something that sounds a little bit corny and it’s probably okay,
because I’m in California, is to really go nose to nose and eyeball to eyeball
with your cat or dog and have a look in your cat’s or dog’s eyes and see, is
that same spark that you’re 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 don’t want to act prematurely. They don’t 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 they’re going to
have guilt and regret that they really waited too long.

GROSS: Do they allow their pet to endure suffering that they didn’t 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 they’re going to die
with the anxiety that they have…

Dr. KAY: Yeah.

GROSS: … 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 they’re going places. Have you done that, euthanized
animals in the car?

Dr. KAY: Oh, yes. Absolutely, I think people don’t realize that there’s 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 don’t want
the last minute of the animal’s life to be in a place where they’re really
miserable. Now, if the animal is really weak and quite out of it, they may not
even recognize they’re in a veterinary hospital setting.

But many dogs feel like their cars or their trucks are their second home. So
I’m very happy to go out, enter the vehicle and perform the euthanasia there if
that’s 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 they’re not available to do that, there’s house call
practitioners that’ll go do that, as well.

GROSS: What are some of the things you’ve seen people do to reassure their
animals as they’re being euthanized?

Dr. KAY: Well, if they’re still eating, there’s a lot of food involved. There’s
a lot of stroking, a lot of loving, a lot of…

GROSS: I’m 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. That’s not a problem?

Dr. KAY: Well, have you ever been with an animal when it’s been euthanized?

GROSS: I haven’t.

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 it’s kind of shocking sometimes how quick
and simple it seems. What we do is we administer in the vein an injection
that’s 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 I’m administering the
euthanasia solution, they’re stroking, they’re patting, they’re crying, they’re
saying all the things that they really want to say to their dog or cat.

I’m sorry, I get a little teary-eyed talking about it sometimes. And if it’s a
dog that loves its food, then they’re 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 it’s 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 I’m 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 it’s, sometimes it feels like a relief, you know, when an animal
is really suffering. Let’s say they’re breathing or struggling to breathe and
they can’t 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 I’ve 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
of closure.

GROSS: My guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay, author of “Speaking for Spot.”
We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay, author of the book “Speaking for
Spot.” We’ve been talking about how you help people make tough decisions,
medical decisions about their animals. You’ve had a lot of animals yourself.

Dr. KAY: Yeah.

GROSS: And I know you’ve 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 you’ve 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, who’s 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 we’d end up with some neurological
symptoms. Well, we decided to proceed with the surgery. To us that was - no pun
intended – 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, that’s 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 don’t know if the skull tumor’s going to grow back, but he’s going to
be a very lame dog if we don’t 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 weren’t able to fix. But the knee surgery in particular was
challenging because we really didn’t 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 cancer…

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 can’t live with. And so he
went from being a dog that was normal and active to being a dog that couldn’t
walk, couldn’t 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 who’s going to be the one
holding, who’s 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
equally hard?

Dr. KAY: They’re both equally hard. The holding is hard because you’re so
connected with what’s happening with your animal. The injecting is hard because
you can’t 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: It’s so true, I know.

Dr. KAY: Because one family member might say, let’s go get a dog tomorrow, and
another person it might take a whole year before they’re 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, she’s the dog that’s on the
back cover of my book. Her name is Nelly. And she’s been a wonderful fit with
our family.

GROSS: Oh, I have to look.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, she’s adorable.

Dr. KAY: She is. She’s a little doll.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. So, you must be…

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, we’ve gone little. Both of our current dogs are little dogs and
it’s 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 I’ve had in the past have always been very, whatever you want mom, I‘ll 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 you’re dealing with – 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 you’re dealing with a new cat or dog, whose personality you don’t 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 it’s a
typical lab, the lab’s going to be jumping all over you and very excited to see
you. If it’s a dog that’s 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 I’ve introduced myself. I’ve greeted the animal if they want
to be greeted, and then I’ve 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 I’m 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 they’re much more receptive to me getting personal
with them.

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 don’t 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. You’re putting a twitch on the horse’s
nose or grabbing the horse’s 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, there’s 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 doesn’t really care what we’re doing.

GROSS: Now, I want to end by asking you about the cover photo on your book
“Speaking for Spot,” the cover dog.

Dr. KAY: Sandy.

GROSS: Because there’s 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 it’s 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 they’re recovering from
some sort of disease, they’ll send these dogs over to San Quentin State Prison
to work with prisoners.

And the prisoners, it’s a real privilege for them to be able to work with these
dogs. They work on training them and socializing them. In Sandy’s 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 – Sandy’s come to a number of my local book signings. The only quibble I
have with her is she’s about 10 pounds overweight, and I keep talking to her
mom and dad about that.

GROSS: Well, that’s such a great story. Dr. Kay, it’s 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 “Speaking for Spot.” She’s an internist
at the animal care center in Rohnert Park, California. Next week she’ll 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
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
An Archival Interview With Natasha Richardson


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 Richardson’s New York Times obituary, she was quote, “an
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,” 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 “The Parent Trap” and in more
unconventional films like “Patty Hearst” and “The Comfort of Strangers.” She
won a Tony in 1998 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the musical “Cabaret.”
We’re 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 didn’t see her much on stage because at
that period of her life I don’t think she was on stage much. I think it had a
profound effect on me. I took it very real, but not only because she’s such a
great actress, but, you know, when I’d see her as Isadora, you know, die at the
end, I’d get doubly upset.

And my mother would say, no, it’s okay, I’m here. And I’d say, well, I know
you’re here, but it’s a true story, and that really happened and it’s really
upsetting me. But I just love, you know, I just loved watching her movies. I
loved - I’ve 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 England’s first
families of acting affect the expectations if you didn’t 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 weren’t going to help me in any immediate
way, whether I have wanted them to. You know, when you’re 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t find out. I had had to audition three times,
and they didn’t 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 that’s how
they found out. And I was thrilled that they didn’t know because then I
thought, well, I was accepted on my own terms.

GROSS: The two of the movies I’ve seen you in “Patty Hearst” and “The Comfort
of Strangers” were directed by Paul Schrader.


GROSS: Now, how did he first cast you? Because I think he - I think “Patty
Hearst” was your first movie.

Ms. RICHARDSON: No, “Patty Hearst” wasn’t my first movie. It was my first
American movie and it was the first - it was kind of my big break movie.

GROSS: Oh, that’s right, you had been in “Gothic” before that.

Ms. RICHARDSON: I had been in “Gothic” before that, and I’d also done another
movie. But it was, I think seeing “Gothic” that gave Paul the idea that he
wanted me to play Patty and so that’s 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 “High Society.” 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,
you’re – you’re 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 didn’t have to do anything. I was feeling that way already.
I mean, he started the movie by doing a week’s 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 I’m 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 didn’t. 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 you’re blindfolded, somebody just
has to touch your arm and you jump. So it wasn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 who’s
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 wasn’t. And I also knew when he said,
yes, now you’re there, that’s 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. There’s a certain -
they sort of frown on what they call, you know, what they think of as the
method. And, you know, they think it’s all pretend and you can’t 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. It’s the way I work.
And I don’t say it’s the only way, but I think that’s the surest way to the
truth, which is what it’s 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.

I’m Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue