Bon appétit

Sometimes you eat the bull and sometimes . . .
By JAMES PARKER  |  March 28, 2007

VIDEO: The birds of paradise as seen in the Discovery Channel's Planet Earth

With apologies to those of my readers who were expecting a poignant analysis of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Shalom in the Home, as promised in my last column, I am going to surrender this week to the beauty of the natural world. On the one-off documentary E-Vets: The Things Pets Swallow last Sunday (Animal Planet), a pair of black Labradors got into a two-pound bag of sugared pigs’ ears and were brought to the Alameda East Veterinary Hospital by their concerned owner. The image had a queer, riddling quality: somewhere inside of these two identical dogs there were 18 pig’s ears, suppurating quietly away. Did each dog eat nine? Some sort of nostrum or folk remedy seemed to be in order. Doctor Kevin Fitzgerald, “Fitz,” a tall, droll man with a silver moustache, took control of the situation. “Will this stuff pass through?” he mused. “Maybe. But do you wanna wait for that? You wanna resolve things if you can. Let’s make ’em vomit and get ’em out of here.” (Two doses of apomorphine later, one of the dogs had gratefully hacked up the whole bagful.)

Fitz, a regular since 1998 on the AP show Emergency Vets, is much given to this easy rhetorical manner. “Why would an iguana eat coins?” he asked later. “Coins have salt from our fingers. What’s better than salt? Do you like potato chips? Who doesn’t?” Fitz was once employed as a bouncer for Willie Nelson, and he moonlights as a stand-up on the Denver comedy circuit: “the hardest-working veterinarian in show business.” In 2005 a woman called Vicki Tenney appeared in a Denver court accused of stalking him. A correspondence that began with an enquiry about her cat had taken a worrying turn when she started to write daily to Fitz, enlarging upon her plans to take him to Heaven with her. In 2003 she was seen muttering his name in a Denver-area Burger King; in 2004 she was arrested after phoning him with the news that she had picked out his casket.

On the premiere episode of the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth (Sundays at 8 pm), the animals were eating as God intended. Off the coast of South Africa, a great white shark corkscrewed clear of his own weight and rose into the air with a seal in his chops, its mermaid-like tail flapping sadly. In Botswana, a pack of dogs sent a lone impala on a desperate, skimming run, finally driving it into a river. Slack-jawed and casual, the charred-looking yellow-and-black dogs gathered on the bank as the impala paddled soupily in midstream: “Now it’s a waiting game,” narrated Sigourney Weaver. “The prey must come out, or drown.” Later in the show we saw a family of elephants make a hundred-mile trek for water across the Kalahari, with dust clouds the color of cement fuming around their knees. When they made it to the waters of the Okavango Delta, they all went swimming: submarine cameras caught the happy, bicycling motions of their great dustbin feet.

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