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Class of 2018 Story: Open Mind, Open Heart

Name: George Schaaf
Hometown: Davidson, N.C.
Post-graduation plans: Starting a residency in anatomic pathology at Wake Forest University in July

I remember listening to the faculty joke during orientation about how many of us would rescue at least one animal and fall in love with a classmate during our time at the CVM.

I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t a sucker for cute puppies and I had already announced that I would never date a fellow veterinarian.

Fast forward a year and a half. I was sitting in the classroom in October; we had just finished a course in anesthesia and basic surgical techniques. We were about to perform our first surgery on someone’s future pet. I was terrified. Working through complicated internal medicine cases was what I enjoyed. Cutting into a healthy animal and then trying to re-assemble him or her was the last thing I wanted to do. Didn’t they know that I had only been in vet school for 14 months?

I walked into the surgery ward with sweaty hands. There were about 20 dogs who had just arrived from a local rescue. We were responsible for spaying, neutering and vaccinating them before they found a new home. I scanned the kennel doors and nervous dog faces looking for the patient I had been assigned.

Esmeralda was curled up in the back of her kennel looking even less excited about this situation than me.

I should explain that my father is a veterinarian. I had spent the majority of my free time as a child working in the clinic with him. I had seen many adorable puppies and kittens, but I considered myself somewhat clinical in my approach to medicine and immune to cuteness.

Well, Esmeralda was the strangest, cutest little dog I had ever seen. She looked like a cross between a fox, a coyote, a corgi and a Jack Russell terrier. She had disproportionately large ears and submissive brown eyes, both of which she was using to assess me through the bars of her kennel. Her legs looked like they were a mistake, a quarter of the length that they should have been.

I lifted her out of the cage and set her down in the hallway. As I sat down on the floor next to her, she climbed into my lap, let out a dramatic sigh and fell asleep. I remember a strange feeling, as if some part of my emotional armor had been compromised.

Her surgery went smoothly and without complication, a true testament to my instructors and our curriculum. The following morning I took her for a walk and we sat outside in the grass together. My classmates and I loaded her and her friends into kennels and into the back of a large van. They drove off, back to the rescue to begin the rest of their lives.

Two hours later, I was standing at the gate to the rescue with a completed application and cash for the adoption fee in my hands — three month’s worth of beer money!

Ada. Photo by George Schaaf

I’ve never been so happy to see a dog. I’d like to think that was the happiest she had ever been to see a vet.

Her name is now Ada, and she has proven to be an extraordinary companion through one of the most exciting and enjoyable chapters of my life.

I suppose the moral of my vet school story is to keep an open mind. There are a multitude of opportunities at this school and with this degree that I had never even heard of prior to coming here. It doesn’t hurt to keep an open heart either. You never know who might wander in.

Did I mention that I’m also engaged to one of my classmates?