Life lessons can come in strange packages.

Who knew there were lessons to be learned about the veterinary business from furnaces? In fact, the elderly oil-burner in my basement taught me quite a bit last week when it got sick from neglect.

First came remorse for judging some pet owners harshly over the years. Early Sunday morning, I found myself on the phone, waking up an on-call home-heating technician. Our furnace had quit overnight and it seemed imperative to get it going again quickly. Perhaps that doesn’t sound unreasonable in December, but at the time our two propane fireplaces were happily chugging out heat. There was clearly no danger of frostbite.

Listening to the sleepy voice on the other end of the phone, I suddenly recalled being in his position so many times when a panicked pet owner woke me up for things that really could have waited. To them, I’m sorry for any unkind thoughts I had at the time. To Brad, the nice furnace repairman, thanks for being so understanding and helpful. But, there were more lessons to come.

Many of the more frustrating emergencies dealt with by vets involve animals that have been neglected – maybe not wilfully, but ignorance is no excuse. Apparently, just like dogs and cats, furnaces need annual inspections to find brewing problems and tune-ups or cleanings to keep them running right.

I can still hear the Ultramar lady’s annual voice-message, annually ignored, advising “it’s time to have your furnace checked”. Deep down, I thought it was a scam. “Dogs don’t need annual checkovers. It’s just a plot to make money.” How many times have I heard that from clients whose pets later suffered as a result? Obviously, the furnace wasn’t suffering, but it did get pretty sick.

So there I was, waking up poor Brad because I neglected my furnace for years and might have to put on an extra sweater or two. But even as I berated myself for calling, he made a suggestion that got the old furnace working again. Sure enough, all it took was pushing a red button and heat flooded through the house. Too bad dogs and cats don’t have reset buttons.

In the end, this is not a happy tale. Later that Sunday, when the heat kept failing and I was reluctant to bother Brad again, only luck stopped me blowing up the house by repeatedly pushing the reset button. The home-heating sales rep is on his way now to give an estimate for a new furnace. Fortunately, only the furnace died.

Life lessons abounded that frosty weekend. Keep your stuff, your pets and yourselves tuned-up and checked over regularly. Annual exams are not a scam. Be kind to folks who carry pagers for emergencies – maybe it can wait until sunrise. But don’t endanger lives by playing around with things you don’t understand. Luckily for local pets there’s now an overnight emergency clinic in Rossmore to make decisions easier. For furnaces, there’s still only the Yellow Pages.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton, Ontario
December 2013