What Lessons have Animals Taught You About Life?

I am a firm believer that animals can teach you some of the most valuable lessons in life. I try to learn from them every day. My dogs show me everyday how to live in the moment and enjoy life. I am posting below photos a few important teachers I have had the privilege of meeting. Even if we only met for a brief moment, or if I knew them for a lifetime, I am ever grateful for what these special creatures have taught me.

I would love for you to share some of the important lessons you have learned from an animal or animals. Please comment below.

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esther and me

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Melissa with a deer

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Melissa with a dolphin in Mexico

my familiar

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Don’t Change that Channel, Exploring the Channel Islands

Time for another girl trip!! G and I have been doing backpacking and camping trips since 2007. She is my friend from vet school and we started by hiking the grand canyon in ’07 and tend to have adventures together once a year or so. She is one of the coolest people I have ever met. She lives in Oregon, I live in Arizona.

We were talking on the phone and discussed doing another camping and hiking trip and she suggested hiking in the Channel Islands, off the coast of California. I jumped at the chance to see another national park. She arranged a ferry ride to Santa Cruz island from Ventura and arranged two nights of camping. As I was preparing for the trip my friend and neighbor stopped by, he was interested in the trip. He asked who I was going with because he was curious what other “rugged bitches” I knew. I took that as a compliment.

On Saturday I drove out to Los Angeles to pick G up at the airport. The airport area in L.A. is somewhere I spent a lot of time this summer during my work for G Adventures. I felt happy in the L.A. traffic in a Civic and not in a large commercial van with a trailer attached. I picked her up and from there we stopped at a Ralph’s grocery store directly across the street from the hotel that I had stayed in it so many nights over the summer.

We headed out around L.A. to do some sightseeing for ourselves. We went to the La Brea tar pits near Hollywood and to the Page museum which has displays of bones found in the pits and information regarding them. It was very fascinating. We went to the Hollywood walk of fame and posed with some stars and saw the Hollywood sign in the hills, then we headed toward Ventura to try to find a campsite for the night. We couldn’t find a site and ended up staying at a hotel for the night.

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood stars!

Hollywood stars!

In the morning we got on the Island Packer’s ferry bound for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. We had all of our camping gear and got onto the ferry. The ride was about an hour and a half from the California shore. We saw some California sea lions and a few dolphins along the way to the island.

 

Ferry to the Channel Islands

Ferry to the Channel Islands

California Sea Lions

California Sea Lions

When we arrived at the island all of the campers, a group of maybe 15 or so, were gathered together and greeted by a park ranger, Ranger Cole, who laid down some island rules. Ranger Cole seemed like a no-nonsense sort of guy, he was the only ranger I had seen who carried a gun and a set of handcuffs. He didn’t seem to be in a joking mood, and actually seemed quite sick of people’s shit. He was about 30 years old, tall, dark, muscular and handsome. G and I both noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring. He laid down rules regarding obtaining fresh water, cleaning at the campsites, checkout times, fire restrictions, and talked about the importance of not littering, and about packing all trash back off the island. The island has no trash services and all trash must be taken back to the mainland by campers. He also discussed the importance of staying safe on the island and discussed how little emergencies can escalate into big problems due to our remote location. He told us to come to him immediately with any medical emergencies, even minor ones “like a sprain or a fracture.” G and I glanced at each other sideways trying not to snicker because we wondered how Ranger Cole could classify a fracture as a minor injury. He also talked about some of the unique wildlife on the island. The Channel Islands are sometimes called “the Galapagos of North America” because there are varied species on each island and many distinct species of animals are found on the Channel Islands that are found nowhere else on earth. Santa Cruz is home to the island fox, which is the largest predator on the island, there are about 1300 on the island. He also told us about the native people who once lived on the island and that there are sacred burial sites present. He told us to never disturb a site and told us that some sites are still being discovered, and if we think we discover one we should tell him. Ranger Cole didn’t smile once during his speech and dismissed us at the end of it. G and I shouldered our packs and started heading to our campsite, which was about a half mile away from the harbor.

On the way to camp we discussed some hiking options and we talked about packing out trash and we resolved to also pack out any other trash we found on the island as well. We decided we would leave the island cleaner than we found it. We also talked about how we wished we could see some more sea life, hopefully some whales and more dolphins and sea lions. We also wanted to see some island foxes. We joked that we had already seen one fox, Ranger Cole, and we debated about how often park rangers likely get laid. We had different theories on this subject. We joked about how Ranger Cole told us to find him for medical emergencies or if we discover a sacred burial site on the island, but he didn’t actually tell us where to find him. We wondered where he stayed. We wondered how often he used his handcuffs.

We set up camp and then went to the visitor center on the island. We learned about how the island used to be used as a ranch in the late 1800s, but then sheep and pigs got loose and became feral and took over the island and fucked up all the environment and threatened native island species. Eventually the sheep and pigs were trapped and relocated back to the mainland and all ranching activities were stopped. The island and its wildlife are still working on recovering from the insults of ranching.  After our learning experience at the visitors center, we hiked up to a viewpoint called Cavern’s Point, and out to another scenic point called Potato Harbor. The island scenery is stunning and the coastline of the island is very beautiful. We looked for whales but didn’t see any. After hiking we went back to camp and cooked a dinner of dehydrated food using water we boiled with a Jetboil and then made a dehydrated dessert. It was good. A scruffy looking fox with a limp and previously injured ears walked into our campsite. This fox obviously had been living off of food scraps and wasn’t scared of people. Ranger Cole had made it clear never to feed island wildlife. We sat and watched this fox as he wandered through our site, he even walked right up to G and waited by her feet for a moment before continuing on through the site. We called him Scar.

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Near Cavern's Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Near Cavern’s Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View near Cavern's Point.  Channel Islands National Park.

View near Cavern’s Point. Channel Islands National Park.

This beat up limping old fox came into our campsite.  We called him "Scar"

This beat up, limping, old fox came into our campsite. We called him “Scar”

Island fox we nicknamed "Scar"  He is looking for a handout.  He came right up to G

Island fox we nicknamed “Scar” He is looking for a handout. He came right up to G

The next morning we got up and Jetboiled some water and made oatmeal and granola and coffee. We packed some more dehydrated food and a bunch of water and headed out for an all day hike to another shore of the island called Smuggler’s Cove. (I never found out how these different places on the island got their names.) We walked up and down hills in the sun and along the coast through stunning scenery to the other side of the island. We saw another island fox along the way. The fox wasn’t scared at all and I got very close to it taking photos and I made G pose with it. As we hiked we picked up garbage along the way and had a competition as to who could get the most trash or the most usual trash. We reached Smuggler’s Cove around lunchtime. There was a beach and a nice view of Anacapa Island, another of the islands of the park. We combed the beach for more trash and found some unusual items including a walkie talkie, some plastic letters, part of a camera and part of some glasses. We also found an almost full pack of Camel cigarettes in smokeable condition. We had also been finding numerous bones all over the island. The bones we suspected to be pig and sheep bones.

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

G with Island Fox

G with Island Fox

I was actually surprised by how little trash there was on the island overall, but we still managed to find enough to stress our small daypacks. (We didn’t take any bones but left those where they were.) Before we packed the trash all up we played with it and I decided it would be a waste if I didn’t smoke a cigarette. I lit one with the Jetboil flame and was immediately shocked by how disgusting it was. I think I forgot how gross cigarettes are. I took a drag but couldn’t bear to inhale any; it tasted like my chainsmoking grandma’s morning breath. I stubbed it out and packed it back with the other trash. G had no desire to try to smoke a cigarette, but we took some self timer photos posing with the cigarettes and other trash for fun.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands.  We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it.  Saving the world.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands. We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it. Saving the world.

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

We made backpacking dehydrated meals again with the Jetboil. G forgot her spoon and although I offered to share mine, she preferred to use a piece of a broken shell to eat soup and mashed potatoes with instead.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

From the beach we headed past another building that used to be a part of the ranching operation on the island in the late 1800’s. We hiked up a trail called the yellow banks trail and enjoyed the views from there. We decided it would be nice to live there.

We hiked back to the campsite in the late afternoon and along the way discussed very important life topics, like having crushes on Bill Nye, the science guy. We also discussed having crushes on members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have had a crush on Anthony Kiedis since I was in high school, and G made me feel inferior for this, telling me that I had blindly went along with the masses. She made it clear that Flea was clearly the better choice. He is a good humanitarian, a musical soul, free spirit and caring person. Anthony Kiedis was just plain hot. G recognized this from the beginning, when I took over 15 years to see it. We also discussed other important topics like viewpoints on sailing a sailboat, how we clean the bathtub, and how to protect pigs from getting sunburned. Oh and I found out that G actually proposed to Bill Nye via email when she was in high school…. more proof that she is cooler than me.

I made G take my photo at Smuggler's Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a "Globetrekker"

I made G take my photo at Smuggler’s Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a “Globetrekker”

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Back at camp we Jetboiled more dehydrated food. Another island worker, Brett, came over to talk to us. I don’t think Brett was a ranger, but he drove a golf cart. He came to ask us if we were kayaking and told us that someone left their kayaks on the beach in a poor location where they would have been taken out to sea in high tide. He didn’t seem pleased about it, but he was very friendly and chatted and joked with us and was very personable and pleasant. Ah, forget Ranger Cole, we were now fans of Brett. Brett was cool.

Scar came to visit us again at the campsite, eating tidbits of unknown items in the grass as he strolled around the area. We greeted him warmly, but didn’t attempt to feed him or approach him.

The next day we swam and hung out at the beach. The water was cold. Our ferry came to pick us up at 3:30pm to take us back to the mainland. We rode back with a class of elementary school kids on a field trip for the day. We sat on the upper level of the ferry while the kids were on the lower level. Neither G or myself are big fans of noisy children. On the way back was were greeted by a very large school of dolphins who decided to ride in the waves from our ferry. It was hands down the coolest group of dolphins I have ever seen and I was so happy as I watched them. There must have been more than 50 of them. The kids on the lower level of the ferry were so happy and I thought to myself that it must be an incredible experience for these kids to go to the island. It was an incredible experience for me!

 

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

 

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

 

We camped on the beach at Point Mugu State park south of Ventura for the night. The campsite was on the sand of the beach and we made a fire on the beach and cooked grilled cheese sandwiches in a mountain pie iron.

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

The next day we met up with another friend, Joyce, from vet school. I haven’t seen Joyce since 2009 and G hasn’t seen her since 2005. It was amazing to see her. We met her at a beach where she was surfing and we spotted her riding a wave in. It felt like a celebrity sighting!!

Our first celebrity sighting!  Joyce!!  Our super smart board certified specialist friend from L.A.  :)

Our first celebrity sighting! Joyce!! Our super smart and beautiful board-certified specialist friend from L.A. 🙂

The three of us went to the Getty Villa near Malibu and had fun looking at all of the antique and historical things there but had the most fun “petting” herbs in the herb garden. We went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant afterwards. It was so nice. G and I went to Santa Monica beach, muscle beach and the pier, it was really fun.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Then it was over. I had to take G back to the airport. I had such a fun time. I can’t wait for our next adventure. Looking forward to continuing adventures of the rugged bitches.

Happy Birthday to Me (and Biscuit)

It was just my birthday and I had a great time with friends! I had been wanting to get a piano for a few years. I took lessons as a kid and thought it would be fun to try to learn again. I found a cheap one on craigslist and my boyfriend, Rob, bought it for me. It desperately needs to be tuned, but I’ll schedule that and in the meantime practice on it anyway. It’s nice to play again.

Now I have a piano just like my mom and my grandma do, and in about the same tune... haha

Now I have a piano just like my mom and my grandma do, and in about the same tune… haha

During the day I got to relax and work on gardening projects. I celebrate my birthday with Biscuit, my dog, who I adopted 11 years ago on my birthday (best birthday present ever.) Biscuit is now 12 years old and we usually go for hikes or walks on our birthday, but this year it was too hot out and he can’t walk very far anymore. Instead we drove to the frozen yogurt shop up the road and I brought along some turkey for him and we got yogurt and toppings and ate it outside in a little outdoor seating area. Biscuit had peanut butter flavored yogurt with caramel sauce and reese’s pieces and turkey on top. I think he had a good day.

Biscuit eating his birthday frozen yogurt

Biscuit eating his birthday frozen yogurt

My new raised garden bed the Rob and I made

My new raised garden bed the Rob and I made

On my birthday some friends and Rob and I went to the Arizona State Fair. I’ve lived in Arizona for 9 years and actually never went there before. It was really great. I loved seeing all of the animals and LOVED the petting zoo they had set up. I think Rob and I spent more time in there than most kids. We ate shitty nachos and corn on the cob and drank beers and played stupid fair games. My friend Foz wanted to get me an “old timey” photo for my birthday and so me, Foz and Turner got dressed up and got our photo done. It was awesome! Weezer was playing at the fair and we got to see them for free. It was really cool. We road the ferris wheel afterwards.

 

I loved the petting zoo!

I loved the petting zoo!

 

Rob and a new buddy

Rob and a new buddy

 

Rob playing fair games

Rob playing fair games

We will seriously kick your ass!

We will seriously kick your ass!

Weezer show was great

Weezer show was great

 

La Grande Wheel is the largest portable ferris wheel in North America

La Grande Wheel is the largest portable ferris wheel in North America

Me, Rob and Turner in the car of the ferris wheel

Me, Rob and Turner in the car of the ferris wheel

Other friends in the next ferris wheel car (Foz is flipping us off)

Other friends in the next ferris wheel car (Foz is flipping us off)

View from the top of the ferris wheel

View from the top of the ferris wheel

 

In the spirit of enjoying every day to the fullest I will happily say that my birthday this year was one of the best days of my life! I look forward to the next year and look forward to learning to play the piano and continuing to enjoy every day as much as possible.

I want to choose happiness

I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I can say that I was busy, but I suppose I didn’t make the time either. Over the summer I worked as a CEO (Chief Experience Officer, essentially a tour guide) leading overland tours through the U.S. and Canada for G Adventures. I was very busy. I met some absolutely amazing people and had some amazing experiences. I worked usually 17+ hours per day and was utterly exhausted for most of the summer. I drove a van/trailer and had to set up camp and teach passengers how to camp.  I researched areas where I was touring and found the best routes and stops between destinations. I often had to choose between taking a shower or calling my boyfriend. I only showered every 2-3 days and called my boyfriend less than that. My boyfriend hurt his back over the summer and I feel as though I jeopardized my relationship with him between not calling him often and not being able to come home right away when he hurt himself.

Overall working in the tourism industry was an interesting experience.  I truly did love meeting all of my passengers and getting to know them a little. It’s funny that when I went on tours I always figured that the tour guides probably wouldn’t remember me and I’d be lost in the sea of other tourists in their mind. For me that isn’t so.  I remember all of them.  Meeting all of them and the other amazing CEOs that were my colleagues over the summer was the absolute best part of the experience and I lucky to have had the opportunity. Now the summer is over.

I’m back at home. I have picked up some veterinary work since I have returned. I’m not excited about it, in fact I dread it. I dread it more than is likely reasonable to do so.

The bottom line is this: Working in the veterinary field makes me despise the human race; working the tourism industry gives me renewed faith in humanity.

I was sitting at home looking at the veterinary classifieds when I got a message from my friend, who is a veterinary technician.  Her message was as follows: “We had a lady call in saying her dog was bloated. When it came had to carry it on a gurney, because it was completely unable to walk due to a steak knife in its abdomen.  The lady stabbed her dog 3 times to relieve the gas. We took it to surgery, it was a complete cluster fuck.  We euthanized the dog this a.m. of course.”

That is only one example of the many things that make life in the veterinary field difficult. My friend’s text was a bitter reminder of the world I will re-enter if I go back into veterinary private practice. I had the urge to burn the classified ads that I was looking at.

I ended up picking up some work in a small clinic last week, filling in for a veterinarian on vacation, then I returned to looking in the veterinary classified ads. Today I found out that a prominent and talented veterinarian, Dr. Yin Continue reading

Whether or Not the Cat’s Away, The Gerbil Will Play

When I was about twelve years old I had several pets.  My mother luckily allowed me to have almost any animals that I wanted and there was usually a menagerie of sorts around the house.

I had pet hamsters before, but for some reason I decided that a gerbil may be more fun and I asked my mom if I could have one.  She agreed.  My mom let me pick out a gerbil and I picked out a gorgeous shiny black male gerbil who had a white stripe down the front of his face and chest.   We brought him home and he lived in a plastic habitat about the size of a ten gallon aquarium.  His habitat was custom made for hamsters and gerbils and it had a few tunnels that led him to other small attachment rooms from which he could view his domain.  I thought the habitat was really cool and looked really fun.  I envisioned all the fun I could have if I were a gerbil in the habitat, climbing through tunnels and going to different areas of my house.  However, the gerbil didn’t seem to appreciate his fancy digs and he spent his time scratching frantically from within a small “turret” attachment attempting to dig his way out of the cage.  In my mind this was very funny because it seemed to me that even though he had the fanciest home I could possibly imagine, all he wanted to do was get out of it.  I wanted to name him “Stupid.”  My mom firmly forbid me to name him “Stupid,” and instead I named the black furry creature with a white stripe down his face and chest “Zorro.”

This was my gerbil "Pipsqueak" and me as a kid.  I don't actually have a photo of Zorro, so Pipsqueak will have to suffice as a "stand in"

This was my gerbil “Pipsqueak” and me as a kid. I don’t actually have a photo of Zorro, so Pipsqueak will have to suffice as a “stand in”

This is me with my hamster "Fluffy Chumpster"  Fluffy Chumpster was pregnant when I got her from the petstore (surprise!) and he had several babies which were fun and a bunch of my friends in grade school adopted them.

This is me with my hamster “Fluffy Chumpster” Fluffy Chumpster was pregnant when I got her from the petstore (surprise!) and he had several babies which were fun and a bunch of my friends in grade school adopted them.

I also had a cat named Muff who was absolutely fascinated with Zorro.  Muff would sit next to Zorro’s cage staring with wide eyes, positioning his face about one inch from where Zorro stood scratching and attempting to escape.  Muff’s tail would twitch with excitement as he stared at Zorro.  Again, I thought this was funny.  I also thought it gave me some credibility for my idea to name the gerbil “Stupid,” because he didn’t seem to understand the fact that where he was frantically trying to escape to was directly into the clutches of a cat, but again my mom nixed the “Stupid” idea, and I supposed it really was too mean of a name for an animal that I liked anyway.

Zorro was a cute little guy and I really did like him.  He wasn’t very playful and didn’t really seem to want to spend a lot of time with me.  Every time I tried to play with him he tried to run away.  I had a “hamster ball,” which is a clear, or at least see-through, plastic sphere enclosure for a hamster or gerbil to be locked inside of.  A hamster or gerbil can then walk around the house by walking inside of the ball and rolling it around.  Of course the benefit to a hamster ball is that your pet can run around and explore, but would not be able to escape forever under your bed or behind a dresser.  The hamster ball prevented the possibility of your pet escaping freely into the house, making nests in the walls, pooping all over, chewing wires, etc.  It was mother approved.  The hamster ball turned out to be the best play item for Zorro.  It was difficult to play with him without it because he always wanted to run away.  He was pretty fast little guy and challenging to hold onto.  Besides, I always had to be careful to lock Muff out of the room if Zorro was going to be out of his cage and not in the hamster ball.  Zorro used the hamster ball and ran around a lot in it.  Sometimes he would poop and pee in the ball as he ran around and little turds would stick to the inside of the ball and rotate around him as he explored the world of the floor.  Since Muff also enjoyed watching Zorro in the hamster ball, I thought it was a good way to play with both pets at the same time.  After excursions in the ball I would put Zorro back in his house, and even with all the rooms and tunnels of his house and possibilities to explore, he inevitably would climb directly back into his turret and resume rapid and frantic scratching attempts to escape.

One morning I woke up to find the turret of Zorro’s cage knocked out of place and fallen off of his cage.  Zorro wasn’t in his cage.  My bedroom door had been open during the night and I really had no idea when or to where Zorro may have escaped.  He could be anywhere.  I figured he was probably under a couch or dresser or under some other piece of furniture, so I grabbed a flashlight and started looking around.  It was amazing to me how big the house suddenly seemed when I thought of all the places that a gerbil could hide.  I started with my room, and after looking everywhere I made my way down the hall and to the living room.  I searched under the couch and under the bookshelf and I was walking to inspect in and around the piano when I stepped on a small ball.

I rolled the ball a little bit under my bare foot and looked at it.  This happened to be around the same time in my life when I needed glasses, but as a stubborn child I never admitted to my parents that I couldn’t see well.   I hadn’t actually gotten glasses yet.  I looked down at the ball and it looked like a small marble.  I thought it was strange because I didn’t have marbles and I didn’t think my brother had any either.  It sure looked like a black marble with streaks of white and red throughout it.  Feeling it under my foot, it didn’t seem as cold or as round as I imagined it should be.  I rolled it under my foot for a moment more.  Then I bent down to look at it closer and with absolute surprise and horror discovered that it was no marble, but it was Zorro’s severed head!  The red color was the stump of his bloody neck and of course the black and white color was his fur.  His little head had his whiskers fully intact and I noticed his rodent teeth looking the same as usual and his eyes were half closed.  I suddenly realized that Muff ate him.  Muff. ATE. Him.  And I supposed Muff probably left his head because it was too bony and didn’t taste as good.

I dropped the flashlight and started screaming.  I ran into my mother’s room and woke her up by screaming and crying and jumping all over her bed.  She probably couldn’t understand me for several minutes, I’m fairly sure I was babbling things that were unintelligible.  Eventually I was crying and sobbing and repeating “He ATE him, he ATE him” over and over.  In my twelve year old mind, the thought that Muff would actually eat Zorro was unfathomable to me.  I was absolutely surprised and shocked.  How could Muff do this to Zorro?  How could Muff do this to me?  Surely he understood how much I liked Zorro.  Zorro was a member of the family.  I knew Muff understood that.  Muff knew that I loved Zorro and he knew that Zorro was my pet, just like Muff was my pet.  The absolute worst thing I ever had imagined might happen if Muff got ahold of Zorro was that he may catch him and play with him.  I never ever, ever thought that Muff might EAT him.  Oh, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, it just couldn’t be true.

My poor mother felt very sorry for me.  She tried her best to calm me down.  I think I remember that at one point she even said to me “Well, what did you think Muff would do?” and I remember feeling betrayed.  My mom knew Muff would eat Zorro if he had the chance?  How could that be true?

Yes, this is an actual photo of Muff, my cat.  I created my own MEME

Yes, this is an actual photo of Muff, my cat. I created my own MEME

It was a hard lesson for a twelve year old girl.  Poor Zorro was the casualty of life’s lessons learned.  It was a cruel and difficult step during the journey from childhood to adulthood.  I began to learn some harsh realities of life.  I began to learn some lessons about death.  I started to realize that I needed to stop seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses.  In fact, I needed to trade them in for some real glasses.

 

 

The Robbery

Recently I drove down to Tombstone, Arizona to work at a vaccine clinic for the day.  Tombstone is the location of the historic shootout at the O.K. Corral, which occurred in 1881 and is the most famous gunfight of the historic southwest.  It’s a tourist location and actually is quite interesting.   The drive to Tombstone is about 4 hours from Phoenix and generally is quite pleasant.  When I was driving to work at the vaccine clinic and I had  made it about halfway there I suddenly remembered what I would see along the way.  Ug.  Along the drive there is a billboard which advertises the city and tells you where to exit.  It has a person, probably supposed to be Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday, posing and pointing a gun directly forward.  

I hate that billboard.  I’ve passed it several times and it always gives me the creeps.  It always reminds me of the day I had a gun pointed at me.  It elicits many bad memories from a night where I was robbed at gunpoint.  

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The incident of which I write occurred in 2007, and it occurred at an animal hospital in Phoenix, where I worked as an overnight emergency veterinarian.  On November 19, 2007, at 1:45am a single gun-man robbed the hospital and held 5 employees hostage at gunpoint for about 40 minutes before they all were able to escape the building.  I was one of those employees.  

It’s funny how this has affected me over the past 6+ years.  It has had a large impact on my life.  It was a big deal.  Every year that passes since the event I feel more alone in my experience.  It seems that everyone else has forgotten about it.  I also get the feeling that everyone else assumes that it’s not something to be concerned with anymore.  I will admit that although the stresses and trauma from that night have lessened over time, that it is something that I will never forget.  It is something that I will never be truly “over.”  

Initially I kept in good touch with the other hostages from the incident of that night.  However now, I have all but lost touch with them.  They are the only people who I feel have a true understanding for what happened that night.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t really have anyone to talk to when I remember that night.  On every anniversary of the robbery, and every time I get reminded of the event I feel sad.  And grateful.  I’m sad because of what occurred, sad for the terror we all had to endure, and sad because for many terrifying moments I thought that I was going to die and I desperately did not want to.  But I also am grateful.  I’m grateful that all of us survived, and grateful that I have been given the chance to live my life.  I think about all that I have done in the past six years and it has been wonderful.  I have enjoyed these years, and I am glad I have had the chance to do that.  

A few months ago, on the sixth anniversary of the robbery, I was hiking “the narrows” in Zion National Park.  As I hiked, I remembered that night and realized it had been six years since I had a brush with death.  On that day as I hiked in the beautiful location I felt so happy and alive.   I was so glad that I got the chance to do it.  I am so grateful that my life did not end that night in 2007.  One of the lessons and goals I have had after the event was to live my life as though it is a second chance, to live as though I embrace every moment, and to be happy.  I strive to do this every day.  

Sometimes I feel a little alone in my thoughts on the subject.  I’ve encountered several people who care and who have concern for me regarding the fact that I survived a hostage situation.  Unfortunately, it seems that people always seem to feel awkward talking about it.  I like to talk about it.  I am not ashamed; I’m not going to break down and make people feel weird.  (well, maybe they will feel weird anyway, but I wish they wouldn’t.)  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that night, and I have come to realize that the only people who know the story of what really happened that night are me, Joey, Erick, Linda and CeCe.  We are the five people who were there that night; we were the hostages.  The story about the situation was aired on the news after the event.  The news reported many things incorrectly, including that the gunman voluntarily let us go, (which he didn’t,) and that the doctor in charge at the hospital was a man (um, no- it was ME!)  

Over the years several people have asked me to tell them the story, and I am happy to, but the story is long and inevitably people get bored, feel weird, or simply do not have enough time for the whole story. 

So, I’m going to tell it.  Right here.  Right now.  You can read it or not, but this is my story.  Keep in mind that this is my story, from my perspective.  I was not present for some very threatening events that occurred

with the other victims from that night.  I can comment on some things that I learned from them afterwards, but I cannot speak for them directly.  I do, however, know that it affected everyone involved profoundly.  

 

The story of the robbery of the EAC, Nov 19, 2007:

 

I was employed as a staff veterinarian and was working an overnight shift at the Emergency Animal Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.  The shift runs from 6pm until 8am the next day.  It had been a relatively busy night.  The first part of the night two doctors were working, myself and a “midshift” doctor whose shift was from 6pm until 1am.  

The midshift doctor and I had been joking about the crappy neighborhood that the hospital is located in.  We had heard that 3 days ago another veterinary hospital in the area was robbed.  Our hospital management had made up flyers regarding the incident, warning employees to be careful and vigilant.  These flyers were posted throughout the building in the employee areas, including one on the door to the doctor’s office.  We joked that in the movie Blood Diamond people would say “T.I.A.” meaning “this is Africa” to chalk up any bad shit that occurred to the fact that bad shit just plain happens in Africa.  We joked about how bad shit seems to occur in and around this hospital a lot.  We could say “T.I.P.”, meaning “This is Phoenix” regarding incidents like robberies, like the crazy clients strung out on drugs, like clients just acting crazy, or other weird shit that commonly seemed to occur at this hospital.  We had specifically been discussing how some clients refuse all medical advise and recommended treatments for their sick pets and insist that they have a “hunch” their animal will be fine, and disregard what we tell them:  “T.I.P.”

At around 1am the midshift doctor went home after her shift. 1am was also a shift change time for technicians.  The midshift techs get to leave and the overnight techs come on duty.  I, of course, was in it for the long haul and was working all night.  Angel and Erick were the last two midshift techs and were planning to leave soon.  The overnight techs, Joey and Linda were already there and working by 1am.  An overnight receptionist, CeCe, was already up at the front desk.  

There were no clients in the building at 1am, there were 8 patients hospitalized with us that night.   One of the patients was a large dog who was hospitalized because she was having seizures, and we were attempting to get them under control.  The patient had been doing well and hadn’t had any recent seizures.  Another patient was a rabbit with pneumonia, it was being administered oxygen by way of an “oxygen kennel” that had oxygen pumped into the cage.  The rabbit was actually doing really well, and I had been weaning him off oxygen as the night went on, and continued to turn the oxygen down as long as his breathing was good.  At 1am I thought he was breathing so well that I turned his oxygen completely off, and decided to watch him closely to make sure he could tolerate being off oxygen.  Another patient was a dog who just had surgery to remove her infected uterus which had become life threatening.  She was recovering from anesthesia and was being treated with iv fluids, antibiotics and pain medication.  The surgery had went well and she seemed to be doing ok.  To be honest, I cannot remember the other patients very well.  I remember all of the patients except for one was on an iv fluid drip, and luckily none of the patients were in a very critical condition.

Shortly after 1am a client came in with his dog for emergency care.  His dog had an ear infection and the dog was shaking its head.  I remember being irritated.  It never failed that people would bring in their animals at odd hours for things that aren’t really emergencies.  I do not consider an ear infection an emergency, and I had plenty of other work to do, but here it was.  I spoke with the client and looked at the dog.  The dog’s ear was indeed sore and the client agreed to let me give some pain medication, then clean and medicate the ears.  The client left money at the front, then said he was going to drive up the road to Jack-in-the-box, a 24hr fast food chain, to get some food.  I instructed the technicians to give the dog a dose of morphine and acepromazine for pain and sedation, and once it took effect we would flush clean the infected ear and treat it with appropriate medications.  As the techs were administering the morphine and acepromazine I went into the doctor’s office to start typing the record.

The doctor’s office had a two small desks, a staff refrigerator and a small couch.  One entire side of the office is a large window that faces the side of the building, and it is easy to see inside of the office at night.  The window faces part of the client parking lot, sort of the client “overflow” parking.  Near that area is a gate that leads to a fenced-in employee parking lot.  The gate is visible from the doctor’s office window.  However at night, it was hard to see out into the darkness.  The employee parking lot is completely fenced in and its only access is through the gate which is kept locked.  The back door of the building is accessible from the employee parking lot and a combination code must be entered to open the door.  

As I sat at a desk in the office and was typing medical records, I heard the back gate open.  This was not unusual because it was the time of shift changing, and I knew that Angel and Erick were leaving.  Erick and Angel went out together to unlock the gate.  They unlocked it and Angel was the first to drive out.  Before Angel left he asked Erick if he wanted him to wait until he was ready to leave too.  Erick had brought his English Bulldog, Gorda, with him to work that night, and was just getting her into the car.  Erick told Angel that was leaving directly behind him and that he was fine, and that he didn’t need to stay, so Angel got in his truck and drove away.  As Erick was getting Gorda into the car, a man came into the back parking lot and approached him.  Erick was a little surprised but not initially concerned.  He told the man that this area was for employees of the animal hospital only asked him to leave.  The man then pulled out a glock handgun and pointed it at Erick.  He told Erick to get the dog in the car and away from him.  Erick raised his hands and did as he was told.  The man led Erick up to the back door of the building at gunpoint and made Erick let him into the back door of the hospital.

Of course at the time, I didn’t know any of that had happened, and my first realization that something was wrong was when, from the doctor’s office, I suddenly heard a lot of yelling.  I couldn’t pick out every word, but I heard:  “you will all die here tonight,” and “get down!” and “do as you’re told!”  I got up from the desk and stuck my head out of the doctor’s office and looked into the treatment area.  I saw Joey (who I actually thought was Angel,) laying face down on the floor with his hands above his head.  I could not see anyone else.  ‘Oh fuck, we are actually being robbed,’ I thought.  For some reason even with the knowledge that another clinic had been robbed earlier in the week, it had never entered my mind that it would actually happen to me and my hospital.  I quickly retreated to the office and shut the door as quietly as I could and locked it.  The door is similar to a bathroom door with a similar lock.  As I shut the door, I looked at the shoddy handle and lock, and also realized how crappy the door itself was constructed, and at that moment I knew that the gunman would be coming through that door after me.  I picked up the phone in the doctor’s office and dialed 911.  The dispatcher answered and I whispered: “send help now” and then set that phone down on the table.  I wasn’t certain if they needed time to trace the location.  After I set the phone down I stood in the middle of the office and looked around.  I wondered if bad guys were outside looking in the window at me.  The windows didn’t open and I couldn’t get out through them.  I frantically and desperately looked around the doctor’s office for a way out or a place to hide. 

Panic started to set in as I realized there was absolutely no place to hide and no place to go.  I could hear more yelling and threats from the gunman through the door.   I knew the gunman would likely find me there and I didn’t know my best approach for survival.  It seems apparent to me that the gunman wanted us to lie on the floor with our hands out, since that was what he was telling others to do in the back of the hospital, so I crawled under the desk and then laid with my face down and may hands outstretched.  I could hear the man yelling and threatening everyone.  I heard him ask several times where the doctor was.  I felt like such a coward.  I was hidden away from my staff who might die.  I was hiding in the office hoping to not be seen and I was leaving everyone else on their own.  I was frozen in terror and remorse. I could hear the robber yelling at the people in the back.  ‘Oh my god, we could all die here,’ I thought in terror.  I laid there and had clear visions of my lifeless body in this same position with a gaping gunshot wound through my head and a large puddle of blood oozing all over the floor.  One thought kept circulating through my head:  ‘I don’t want that, please I don’t want that.’  

I heard the robber bringing Linda to the front of the building.  He was demanding money.  He took her up to the receptionist and encountered CeCe, who was at the front desk and had not had time to flee.  I didn’t hear what he said, but I found out later that she told him that any money we had was previously dropped into a drop safe for which no one had the key.  CeCe was threatened and the robber had the gun held up to her head and face.  He threatened to kill her.  He told her that he was going to give her less than 5 minutes to get the money from the safe and that if she tried to leave, or tried to call the police, or didn’t get the money, that he would kill her. 

After that he walked with Linda at gunpoint away from reception and to the back of the hospital.  The door to the doctor’s office is directly along the way.  I could hear them coming back because he was yelling the entire time.  I got up very quietly and put the phone back on the receiver and laid back on the floor in my original position, I didn’t want him to find that I had called 911.  The phone lines were all ringing constantly, no one was answering them.  The robber and Linda stopped at the door.  He asked Linda what was behind the door.  She told him nothing was behind the door.  He didn’t believe her and she told him it was a storage unit.  He asked her where the doctor was.  She told him that she didn’t know, and that the doctor leaves sometimes and that she thinks he left the building.  I was laying there listening to this and was shocked, proud and frightened.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I was shocked that Linda had the balls to lie to this guy, and she actually sounded calm.  She was really trying to protect me.  I felt a surge of love for her as my friend, and also a surge of fear and anger for putting herself at risk.  I knew that the robber would find out she was lying.  Before another second passed, the robber attempted to open the door and found it was locked.  

He started kicking the door, he kicked it several times.  I heard the wood of the door splintering but I didn’t dare to look up at it.  My face was against the floor and my arms and hands stretched out in front of me, similar to a “chid’s pose” used in yoga.  I heard the man step into the room.  I didn’t move from my location and did not look up.  He entered the room and immediately yelled “Where is she?!!”  He didn’t see me immediately because my body was under the desk and only my arms were sticking out.  I responded “I’m right here, I’m right here!”  I wanted to cooperate with him in every way possible.  ‘where is she?’ I thought to myself.  So he had been watching me at the window before entering the building.  He knew I was in there.  He walked right up to me and yelled at me:  “did you call 911?” 

I felt something against the left side of my head, which I knew must be a gun.  I didn’t answer immediately because I didn’t know how to answer, I thought he would kill me either way.  

He jabbed the gun into the left side of my head hard.  “Did you call 911?”  

I had a brief fleeting thought: ‘so this is how I die’ – and I said “yes, yes I called 911”  

He screamed at me “LOOK AT ME!”  I looked up at him. 

The barrel of the gun was directly in front of my eyes.  His arm was outstretched and the gun was pointed directly at my face.  He was wearing a gray hoodie and the hood was up and there was a red bandana across his face.  Only his eyes were visible.  He was a young white male.  He looked like a teenager.  I was shocked, because I could see that he was scared and I didn’t expect him to appear that way.  He also looked crazy.  He looked so young, sort of like a scared kid who wasn’t sure what to do, what he had just gotten himself into.  

He yelled at me again.  “When did you call them”  

I reported that I had just called them and they didn’t have time to get here yet, and that he could get out.  Meanwhile, from the moment I had called 911, the phone lines had been ringing off the hook.  They were ringing as he was pointing the gun at my face.  He told me to stand up, and I did.  He never dropped the gun from my face and I never took my hands from the air.  He told me that I needed to pick up the phone and talk to 911, and that I needed to tell them that we called on accident, tell them everything is fine, and that it was a prank.

With the gun at the side of my head, I picked up the phone:  “Emergency Animal Clinic, May I help you?”  There was a lady on the line.  I cannot recall all that she said, but she asked me if we were being robbed.  (I remember thinking, how could she know that? – I never said that).   I told her that everything was fine and that calling 911 was a mistake.  I’m sure I sounded nervous.  The robber had his face next to mine and the gun was painfully jammed into my left temple.  I didn’t know if he could hear what the woman on the line was saying.  I desperately wanted to hang up the phone.  She asked me if the robber was still there.  ‘Actually lady, the robber is here, he is so close that he can probably hear you.’  I thought.  I took a breath and responded: “I’m sorry, calling 911 was a prank, we are all fine, I’m sorry to bother you”  She kept talking and I set the phone down on the receiver.  The gun moved to my forehead and the robber demanded to know what she said.  I told him that she believed me.  

“WHAT EXACTLY DID SHE SAY?!!” he screamed into my face and pressed the gun into my forehead.  

I said something to the effect of “she told me she was glad we were all safe, and that we need to be careful not to call 911 unless there is an emergency” but I started to stutter and I had a hard time having the words leave my mouth because it was difficult for me to think.  I glanced at Linda who was standing next to the robber, she appeared to feel sorry for me. 

He paused for just a moment.  “Are they coming?”  

“I don’t think so, but they are 911, and they probably need to make sure – so maybe”  

He dropped the gun from my face for just a moment and looked to the side, seemed to be thinking.  He said matter-of-factly “They are coming.”

I started talking a lot to him.  I told him that he could get out before they came, and that I could help him, he could take my car, he could go out the back door, I asked him what else he wanted.  He told me he wanted money.  I told him we couldn’t get into the safe, and I’d be happy to give him all the money I had.  

He told me “Yes, give me all your money.”

“It’s in my bag, right here” I pointed at my messenger bag that was sitting on the couch in the office.  I slowly moved toward it, the gun was pointed at me again.  I grabbed my wallet that I bring to work, which is only a crappy batman kids wallet that I got as a present from a technician.  I only ever carry a little cash and never any credit cards or anything else in it.  I opened it up and saw I only had two dollars in it.  I took it out and handed it to him.  I remember thinking that I wished I brought my other wallet, so he could have more.  I wanted him to get enough to make him happy so that he would leave and leave me alone.  I didn’t want him to get pissed and I was scared he would shoot me because I only had $2.  I again offered him my car.  I told him I was sorry I didn’t have more money, I asked him if there was anything else he wanted.  I told him that I could get him drugs.  

“Yes, give me all your ketamine!”  I hadn’t mentioned ketamine, specifically.  I just told him I had access to controlled drugs, but I remember being happy that I could get him something.  Ketamine is a tranquilizing anesthetic that is used just a small amount in small animal medicine, mostly it is used in large animals like horses.  It is a drug that is being used less and less in small animal hospitals and used a lot by the “old school” veterinarians in small animal practice.  At the time we had a lot of ketamine in the hospital because there were plenty of veterinarians who worked for this hospital who still used it.  I was so relieved.  I was thinking, ‘Oh good, he wants ketamine!  That is something I can give him.  You want ketamine, I’ll give you so much ketamine that you can’t move.’

I told him that the ketamine was in a lock box in the back treatment area, but I could get it for him.  I grabbed the lock box key and he allowed me to lead him to the treatment area, but held the gun in my back as I did.  Linda followed us.  I walked across the treatment room floor, past Erick, who was still lying there, and I opened the door to the lock box and pulled out 5 bottles of ketamine and gave them to him. 

He grabbed them with his free hand and put them in his pocket.  I offered him other drugs, but he wasn’t interested in any others.  I thought of offering him the apomorphine.  Apomorphine is a drug that causes extreme vomiting, it’s what we use to induce vomiting in dogs who eat toxins.  He didn’t seem in the mood for any more suggestions, and I decided not to offer him any apomorphine.  After he had the ketamine he told me he needed to find a way out of the building.

The robber turned and focused his attention to Erick.  Erick was still lying on the floor with his face down and his hands out.  I didn’t see Joey anywhere.  The robber started yelling at me and Linda, told us to go lock ourselves in the kennels in the back of the treatment area.  Linda and I went back to the kennels,  I walked into the only large dog run and shut the door behind myself.  I didn’t think at the time that maybe I should have let Linda in with me, or given her that one, because she has arthritis, but Linda just stood nearby anyway and didn’t get in a kennel.  

We watched the robber make demands of Erick.  He went up to Erick and pointed the gun down at him.  He told him that he had to get up and go outside to look for the police.  If the police were there, Erick was to tell them that there wasn’t a problem, he needed to get them to go away.  He screamed at Erick to get up, but Erick didn’t move.   Erick remained on the floor and he was shaking.  The robber became angry and grabbed Erick by the back of his shirt and pulled him up like a rag doll.  Erick’s whole body was shaking and he was crying.  I felt really sorry for him. 

I remember wanted to hug him, to tell him it was going to be okay.  It’s funny the random thoughts that I had because I also thought at that moment: ‘Geez, Erick is really freaking out and it isn’t even that big of a deal.’  Erick tried to walk and he could barely walk, because he was shaking so bad.  I have seen creatures in my life who are very terrified; I’ve worked with animals who were scared and thought I was trying to kill them.  I feel like I have seen terror in other creatures before, but Erick appeared entirely more terrified than I have ever seen anybody or any animal, and I felt very bad for him.  The robber yelled at him, told him he needed to act naturally, and that he needed to get out there.  He told Erick to wait for him in his car, because he would be coming out to leave with him in a moment.  He walked Erick to the back door of the building, and Erick left through the door.  I started to wonder ‘Where the hell are the police anyway?  Why aren’t they here yet?’  

The robber yelled at me and Linda and told us to stay where we are.  He walked through the treatment area and up to the front of the building.  When he was out of sight for a moment, to my surprise I heard Joey’s voice say “How much does this suck?”  I looked down to see Joey locked into a small dog kennel near the floor (the kind of kennel built into the wall with a small latching door.)  Joey was balled up sitting with his knees tucked up near his chest because the kennel was small.  I expressed by surprise and asked when he got put in there.  He told me before Linda was taken up front with him to try to get money from the reception area.  

Before we could talk any more, the robber walked back into the area and targeted the gun at us again.  He asked if there was another way out.  Before I could even think, and for no reason that I can think of, other than I’m likely an idiot, I volunteered to help the robber find a way out or hide.  I asked him if I could come out and help him, and that I wanted him to get out.  He came and got me, held the gun at me and told me to come with him.  I immediately regretted my stupidity but went with him.  

Together we walked up near the exam rooms.  He was looking up near at the drop ceilings and looking down the halls.  For the first time, he focused the gun elsewhere than one of us, and he pointed down the hall with it and asked me if there were a way out that way.  I told him I didn’t think so.  I told him that his best bet is to leave out the back door of the building and run behind the building and jump the fence.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to do that.  He started looking around.  He focused the gun back on me for a moment, then again took it off me and looked down another hallway.  He moved his hood down from the top of his head and removed the bandana from his face.  

He said “This is stupid,” and he asked me what my name was, I told him I was Melissa. He said “Hi Melissa, I’m Anthony.”  

I meekly just said “hi.”  I thought it would be rather stupid to say ‘nice to meet you.’  My thoughts reeled, why was he doing this?  Was he giving up and would he figure he just better shoot us now?  Again, I started to wonder:  ‘Where the fuck are the police??’

 I told him he could trust me and that I would try to get him out of here.  He told me that he would pay me $20,000 if I could get him out without being caught.  I told him I didn’t want any money, but I really just wanted him to be able to get out.  (In all honesty, I was telling the truth too.  At that moment I did not care if he got out and got away, as long as he got away from me and my staff.)  He told me to follow him and I did; he walked through the treatment area and took off his hoodie and put it in a box that was there, he said he was doing it to throw off the dogs police would bring in to track him.  Then he walked down the hall to the last exam room in the hallway.  He went inside and kept looking up at the ceiling.  It was fairly obvious that he was going to jump up on the exam table and crawl into the ceiling.  He emptied his pockets and took out the ketamine, he told me he didn’t want it anyway and he opened a drawer in the exam room and he put the ketamine in it.  He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and asked me if it was mine.  I said no, he put it back in his pocket. He pulled out all the money in his pocket which was folded up.  He handed it to me and told me it was $10,000.  He said I could have it, and he would give me another $10,000 if I got him out without being caught.  I looked down at the money and unfolded it and looked at it.  It was obvious it was less than $50 and I quickly looked back up at him, he had the gun back on me.  I said “ok.”  He told me that I needed to go back to the dog kennel and lock myself back in.  I needed to wait for the police to come and when they arrived to tell them that he got out and got away and is no longer around.  

I left the room.  I walked back to the treatment area quickly and quietly.  I walked past Joey and Linda and signaled for them to be quiet.  I walked past them to the back door of the building.  I thought to myself that I’d just poke my head out and see if it seemed safe, then motion for Joey and Linda to follow if it seemed ok.  

I slowly and quietly opened the door a little bit.  I stuck my head out a little and was immediately encountered with at least 6-8 guns in my face, I came out the rest of the way with my hands up.  The guns were all held by the police.  Several police were motioning for me to come away from the building.  I hesitated and tried to go back in, but the police yelled at me to not go back in.  One was waving me to come to him and was saying, “it’s ok, you’re safe now.”  

I looked around for a moment.   There was a line of police in full riot gear and shields who were along the side of the building.  I saw at least one police dog in the line of police and I noticed at least two helicopters circling above the building and lights were shining down at the building.   I ran to the police officer who motioned for me to come to him.  I told him two more people were just inside the back door in kennels and that the police could go get them.  I became upset when the policeman said they were not going in to get Joey and Linda.  I told him that the robber wasn’t nearby and he was either hiding or he got out, and Joey and Linda are “just right there!”  The police officer told me there was no way the robber got out, and that the place has been completely surrounded.  He was 100% sure that the robber was still in the building.  

He led me away from the building and I saw Erick.  Erick was not wearing a shirt.  Erick and I ran toward each other and hugged for a long time.  I was so happy to see him.  I asked him if he saw CeCe, he told me that she made it out.  A policeman told us that we were not allowed to talk to each other, that we had to be questioned individually and we could not discuss things, because it might change our stories.  He said we could still be nearby each other.   The policeman took us over to another area and CeCe was there, and so were Joey and Linda.  We all hugged each other and we were very, very relieved.  CeCe was crying.   

The next events took what seemed like forever.  The police spent long periods of time questioning us, and other policemen kept interrupting us to ask questions about the building and access to the building.  They were trying to figure out how best to get in and catch this guy.  Someone eventually brought Erick a shirt and he put it on.  The police made Erick draw a map of the entire building.  Erick was the one who knew the building the best.  The hospital is a large building with two floors and lots of offices and storage areas inside and Erick spent a long time detailing the layout with the police.  

Eventually the five of us were gathered together in an RV-like vehicle.  The police let us go escorted to the convenience store to use the bathroom and by some drinks and snacks.  We used the bathroom, but none of us really wanted snacks.  They asked more questions about the building.  They interviewed us more.  They asked over and over again how to get into the building.  Our answer every single time was “Just walk in, the front doors are always unlocked and they are automatic, they will just open when you walk up to them”  For some reason the police kept asking.

After a few hours, around 4am, a police officer came and told us that there was a car attempting to approach the building.  Inside were people and a dog; they wanted to see the vet, and the dog is sick.  I was not happy.  I did not want to see the dog, especially not out in the road with police all around.  Joey said he would go talk to them, and he pulled my stethoscope off my neck, which I had still had there and never had removed.  He went and talked to the people quickly assessed the dog.  The dog was in stable condition.  Joey told the people to go to another emergency facility.  

The police made ready a machine called “the bomb,” which was a robot that could enter the building.  This robot has a video camera so people could see what was going on.  The “bomb” was also set up to talk through, so that police could attempt to negotiate with a person by using it.   It was a little exciting to see the robot roll down the street and toward the building.  Once inside, the bomb didn’t find the robber, or any sight of him.

It was around 5am before anyone actually entered the building.  We heard reports every now and again from other police officers that they could not locate the robber.  I told them several times that he was likely in the ceiling.

A police man came and told us that a dog got out of the kennel and was walking around the building, they had locked it in a room.   Shortly after hearing about the loose dog, a police officer told me they were going to remove all the animals from the building and gas out the robber.  He asked me what the best plan for moving the animals was.  My heart sank.  All of us were already worrying about the welfare of the patients and moving them was definitely NOT in their best interest.  Police were not properly trained how to move sick or injured animals safely.  I told the police that moving them was a very bad idea and that it would be harmful to them, that there needs to be another way to get the robber.  He told me that was the decision that had been made and he told me that they were going to move the animals, and I needed to instruct them how to do it.  He asked me again how to move them.  I told him that iv catheter connections need to be dealt with properly, we have painful animals who could bite if moved improperly and that rabbits have to be handled carefully or they may break their backs and I advised against moving them at all.  Eventually he relented and agreed to not move them.

It was nearing waking hours and they still did not locate the robber.  The management of the hospital were notified and had come to the area.  Who knows what the owners of the patients were doing.  I just imagined the guy who went to Jack-in-the-box and had come back to a place surrounded by the police.  Eventually me and the other “victims” were allowed to talk to each other.  When we were allowed to talk I first asked if the dog with the ear infection was put into a kennel or if he was just wandering around in the hospital, as far as I knew, the robber may have encountered them in the middle of the pain injection they were supposed to give.  Joey and Linda told me that dog was put in a kennel.  I wondered which dog was found loose.  

We talked among ourselves for a little while about our experiences.  I learned a lot about what happened before the robber entered the doctor’s office.  I learned about how the robber encountered Erick and entered the building.  I found out that the robber had placed the gun to Linda’s head and began counting down from 5, threatening to shoot when the countdown was over.  I found out that CeCe had hit the panic button almost right away, and that she answered the phone when 911 was calling back and informed them we were being robbed.  I found out that the robber attempted to get Joey to give him his car keys and Joey had just gotten a new car and didn’t want to lose it and told the robber “I ride the bus,” and the robber kicked him in the ribs.  We laughed at Joey’s wit and quick thinking to tell the robber that he rides the bus, and we laughed because the robber didn’t even want my car when I offered it to him.  I found out that when Erick left out the door of the building, that the police thought that Erick was the robber.  When he came outside after being pushed out by the gunman, and he was immediately seized and stripped down and handcuffed, and that was why he wasn’t wearing a shirt when I next saw him.  I found out that CeCe sat up front scared shitless after she was told she had to get the money out of the drop safe.  She actually managed to get quite a bit of money out for the robber and laid it all out on the counter.  She sat there with it for a moment.  When she heard the robber kicking in the doctor’s office door, she actually thought the noises were gunshots and she thought we were all being killed.  She told us that she thought that she would surely be killed too, but she had to chance it, and she ran through the front lobby and out the door.  She said she felt so guilty for living when she thought we were all dying.  For some reason, this was the saddest thing to me and I was moved to tears for the first time.  

We had to sit in the RV vehicle for a long time while police worked on strategies.  We joked a little about other things, including how ironic it was that the robber kicked down the door that had a flyer on it about another vet clinic being robbed, and the flyer said that we should all be aware and prepared to call 911 if needed.

Around 7am we all got mug shots taken of ourselves which will identify the “victims” in the case file.  We also were told that two people could go into the building to help tend the animals.  We would be escorted.  The robber had not yet been found inside the building, but they felt they had secured the area around the animals.  I looked around me.  As far as they eye could see there was police and police vehicles.  They were there to protect us.  I had never been so happy to be a taxpaying citizen paying for police services in my life.  I volunteered to go into the hospital to work with the animals.  Linda also volunteered.  We went together.  We were escorted up to the building with the police officer.  A manager of the hospital, Sue, was there; she was called at home and came directly to the hospital.  She pulled me aside and told me she could come and help instead of Linda.  I told her I wanted Linda to come.  The truth is that I wanted Linda to come because she knew what I’d been through and I only wanted people there who understood what we just went through.  I didn’t want to answer any questions for Sue.  Before I went into the hospital, I stopped by Erick’s car and checked on his dog, Gorda.  She was still in there, and doing just fine.  Linda and went in to the hospital and there were many, maybe 10 police officers in elaborate outfits with bullet proof armor.  It didn’t go unnoticed by me that I didn’t have a bullet proof vest on.  There were 6 fluid pumps alarming and they were very loud.  I imagined that the police were driven somewhat insane from this noise over the past several hours.

The very first thing I did was shut off all of the alarming fluid pumps and when the last one was silenced, I saw a wave of relief fall over the police officers in the room.  I went from patient to patient, making sure they were stable.  The first one I checked was the bunny.  I had shut off his oxygen at 1am, and wasn’t sure if he could handle it at the time.  Well, it appeared that he could handle it.  He was running around in the kennel and looked just fine, so I was happy about that.  All of the other patients looked good, but the dog who had surgery to remove her infected uterus was not in her kennel.   Turns out she was the one who broke out of her kennel.  She ripped out her iv as she exited her kennel, and then took revenge upon the surgery room and bled from her iv site as she walked around the surgery suite.  The police shut the doors on her and locked her in there. I went to get her, she seemed scared.  I told her it would all be okay and I gently lifted her up and took her back to her kennel.   

Everyone’s kennel was a huge mess and Linda and I began cleaning them and later putting notes in records for each patient.  The police were searching the ceiling of the building, which was, I found out, a very complicated structure with plenty of hiding places.  The police would search and poke their heads into the ceiling, holding their guns out.  They would occasionally yell out and startle me.  They yelled things like “It’s ok, you can come out, we aren’t going to hurt you,”  “Come out now,”  “We are going to find you, you may as well come out now”, and “Get out here before I have to find you and kick your ass!”   My mood was on edge, and I was very upset in general.  The phones were ringing off the hook.  All four phone lines were ringing constantly and were also quite annoying.  Linda and I refused to answer the phone. 

Someone came and told me that my boss, Dr. Paster, was trying to reach me and that I needed to call her; she was working at the Scottsdale branch location and I should call her there.  I did, and when I got on the phone with her she was very concerned and relieved that we were all ok.  She asked me what I needed.  For some reason that set me off and I completely went off in a rage – not directed at her, exactly, just general frustration:  I  started yelling about how I wanted staff standing by to come in and relieve me and Linda as soon as police let them and they need to take over these patients because I was in no mood to continue working and cleaning up piss and re-setting iv catheters.  I told her there was no way in hell I was talking to any of the clients of any of the patients that were here because I would not be able to handle any questions anyone might have about the robbery.  And I told her that if, by the way, she was one of the people calling and making the phone lines ring off the hook to STOP CALLING, because me and Linda are NOT answering the phone and WE DON’T GIVE A FUUUCCCKKKK!!  My voice turned shrill and I was screaming into the phone by the end of my rant.  She paused for a moment and calmly and matter-of-factly replied: “Okay, I’ll get it all taken care of”  I hung up on her, slamming the phone down.  As upset as I was, I was very happy that she was my boss.

As we worked on the animals, we were interrupted several times to be asked more questions.  I showed the police where the robber hid his hoodie (which I had explained to them before) and I showed them the drawer with the ketamine in it (which I had also explained to them before.)   

It was around 9am when Linda and I were told that we had to leave the building because they found the robber.  He was actually hidden in the ceiling right above where I had been working on the animals, and he had wrapped himself in insulation, which explained why the police failed to find him with their heat seeking equipment.   

We got questioned more after the robber was apprehended.  We were all separated and questioned individually.  We had to see if we could identify the robber in a “photo lineup.”  All of us except Cece, who didn’t look at the robber at all, could identify him easily.   For some reason the police wouldn’t let the new staff come in to relieve us.  I had to stay and I waited to round the next doctor on the patients when the police eventually would let her in.   

The police did let the CEO of the company in, as well as some of the board members.   They walked these people around as me and Linda worked, the police let Joey in for a little bit to help also for a short time, but still weren’t letting in other staff so we still couldn’t go home.  I could hear the board members and the CEO walking around, they were getting a “tour” of the events.  I heard:  “Here’s where the doctor hid under the desk,”  “Here’s where the robber broke down the door,”  “Here’s where the staff were locked in kennels.”  The board members and the CEO responded “Oh my,” “Oh wow,” “Oh my goodness,” “Oh, how horrible.”   I was really pissed.  I just wanted to go home.  My terror was not a tour!  Especially not right in front of me, not while I still wasn’t allowed to go home.  

People kept approaching me with different issues.  Someone actually came up to me to tell me that the guy with the dog who had the ear infection was here.  I told the messenger that the dog was ok, but we didn’t get the chance to look at or treat the ear, but the dog is absolutely fine to leave with the owner and go somewhere else.   The messenger left and immediately came back to tell me that the dog’s owner had told the staff out front that he expected the dog to be examined and treated as promised, that we promised we would treat the ear and he expected us to do it now.   I was so pissed.  I yelled at the poor messenger who told me this, my face likely turning red and me spitting during the process of my shouting: “Oh no way is this guy telling me to look at his fucking dog’s ear infection right now after I almost got shot in the head!  I am absolutely NOT doing that.  If he wants to tell me to my face that I need to look at his dog’s ear you just go ahead and bring him back here and I’ll tell him to go straight to hell!  I am not looking at his dog’s ear and I GUARANTEE you that he does NOT want to discuss this with me right now!!”  I was screaming at this poor person.  This person then told me it would be taken care of, and I never heard about it again.  Good.   

The main shareholder and major board member of the company came to talk to me.  I had never met him before.  He asked me a bunch of questions and asked me how I was hanging in there.  I was annoyed and told him I was just concerned with the animals and wanted to make sure they were taken care of, and that I wanted to round them to the next doctor and I really wanted to just go home.  He told me that he was impressed with me, and that he understood that the police aren’t letting the next doctor in yet.  I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t at all impressed with him, and that isn’t he a doctor?  Isn’t this more his damn hospital than anybody’s and why isn’t he helping me with these patients?  Why isn’t he taking rounds from me and letting me leave?  

It was 1pm by the time the police allowed the next staff doctor to come in and take rounds and take over patient care and I went home.  It was a long night.  I spent the next week in a state of shock, intermittently thinking ‘Hey, I’m such a badass, look at what I went through,’ and then intermittently crying and holding my cat.  I spent long periods of time just staring into space.  

After the event several people called me.  My head boss, Dr. Plunkett, kept calling me over and over again and I kept letting it go to voicemail.  She didn’t stop calling and finally I got so sick of the phone ringing that I answered it.  She just wanted me to know that she cared and wanted to see if I needed anything.  I told her that I needed time and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I was happy that she called.  So many people called, I only answered for a few, but I appreciated them all.  My friend Cathy called after she saw a report on the news even when she lived in California.  I didn’t answer initially and she left a message.  Her message said “I am just checking on you, I heard your hospital was robbed, I know that something like 30 vets works for your company, so it probably wasn’t you involved, but you work so damn much that maybe it was.  I want to know if you are ok.  Call me.”  I called her back and when she answered the phone all I could choke out through my tears was “Cathy, it was me.  It was me!” and we cried together on the phone for several minutes.  

There was a very long and drawn out sentencing process, but eventually the robber was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 5 years probation after that.   His info can be seen at the following website.

http://www.azcorrections.gov/inmate_datasearch/results_Minh.aspx?InmateNumber=235495&LastName=BASILE&FNMI=A&SearchType=SearchInet

I have been very grateful to everyone who cares about me and to everyone who lent me support after this happened.  Life is such a gift.  I intend to enjoy it and hope you will too.  

Thank you for reading if you made it this far.  I appreciate it.