A Haitian Tale of Veterinary Angst

So I took Lucy (my Maltese) to the vet yesterday.

Had to get the appropriate travel documents for her re-entry into the US, something I’ve done a number of times in several different countries.  Unlike most globe-trotting animal lovers who leave their pets at home when traveling, Sara and I see fit to move the zoo with us where ever we happen to settle next.  Clearly this is not always the sanest of decisions. (See a post called “An unfortunate incident involving the international trafficking of canines and what I haven’t learned since then” to discover the comedy of errors associated with moving our larger dog Ralph to Vietnam.)

I should have known it didn’t bode well for the appointment, when I arrived at the office to find the vet standing outside in the driveway screaming, raging at 3 male members of his staff—face reddening, arms flailing.  Since my French is so bad and my Creole even worse, I have no idea what he was saying and no sense what set off the tantrum.  (See post called “A Tale of Miserable Failure: moanings of a second language learner”)  

I was unsure how to handle this initial incident and asked Junior, my driver, if I should go ahead and enter the compound, I thought there might be some Haitian etiquette about how to handle incidents of public raging, but Junior only shrugged, the international “I don’t know,” so I reluctantly ignored this show of veterinary angst and walked past the scene into the office. 

Maybe this was my mistake.

At any rate, the doctor raged for at least 10 minutes before entering with seeming calm, offering a “bon jour,” and proceeding to examine my freshly bathed Maltese.  When he was finished, he motioned me into his office for the paperwork part of our visit—generally a 3 document process: an international health certificate, an immigration form for the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), and a “Certificate for Domestic and International Airline Travel.”  The doctor happily generated the health certificate, but refused to sign the other two documents.”

“These are not my forms!” he insists.

Confused, I agree, “No they aren’t.  One is a US immigration form and the other is generated by the airline.”

Again—“These are not my forms.  I will not sign.  You do not need these.  The health certificate is all you need.”

This time I try respectful disagreement, “Actually, every time I have returned my dogs to the US, I’ve needed these forms.”

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years.  You do not need these forms.”

“Well, my experience has been otherwise,” I try to reason.  “The airline and immigration have always asked me for these forms.  You signed them for me when I was here in October.”

“These are not my forms.  I will not sign.”  He has degenerated into a ranting-raging specimen of veterinary medicine—full on arms flailing, the whole raging apparatus in high gear—pissed off on speed!

“Well, just to be on the safe side, would you please sign them?” I try the pity appeal.

“These are not my forms.”

Slams the health certificate and invoice on the desk and walks out of the room.  I call Richard the head of Sara’s security department, the one we call Papa Bear, because we fully believe Richard can fix just about anything—as evidenced by a track record of previous salvation attempts delivered.  Score several for the home team!

To my disbelief, however, Richard’s dressing down of the dear doctor accomplishes nothing.  The doctor stands, tears the health certificate into pieces and shouts,

“I do not like your attitude!” exits stage right.  I think I’ve been dismissed.  Richard and I have lost this round.

Round two—

Junior drives me to another vet.  I’m crying on the phone to Sara the entire way—fully believing, irrationally so, that the second vet will tantrum with equal earnest and I will be stuck in Haiti with my dogs—


Since, I’ve not fully recovered my composure upon arrival, Junior accompanies me into the office of vet number 2, clearly thinking I may need his moral support, if not his driverly expertise in this document getting endeavor.  However, Dr. Calixte, actually, is lovely—an older Haitian gentleman, who speaks little English.  But he’s confused.

“Doctor not at his office?”

“No, he was there, he just refused to sign my documents.”

“Ah, you do not have appointment?” 

“No, we had an appointment at 3 o’clock,” I clarify.  (Since we have arrived unannounced at his office, the vet, perhaps, assumes we’re in the habit of randomly raiding veterinary offices in the greater Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.)

Ultimately, however, Dr. Calixte understands enough to intervene.

And, to be honest, I don’t know exactly what was said, or how I acquired the sympathetic, document-signing approval of the doctor, but after several exchanges between Junior and the Dr. Calixte in Creole and several more with Papa Bear Richard on the phone—in French—my new veterinary ally examines Lucy, and agrees, with a grandfatherly bed-side manner, to generate a health certificate and sign the appropriate forms when Junior returns with them later.

To make a long story short, Junior drives me home; I generate new forms for the vet; Junior takes the forms to Dr. Calixte’s office; Junior returns an hour later, amidst monsoonal rains, with a damp health certificate and both the airline and USDA forms signed and stamped.

Junior is my hero—Dr. Calixte, a fellow champion!  Round two—victory for the home team!

Writing this now a day later, I should clarify that the ultimate winning in this game will be our successful reentry into the US tomorrow and our safe arrival in Kentucky the day after that.

Please be assured, however, that I’ve calmed down, regained the resolve necessary to exit Haiti, and can now clearly recognize the comic moments in what, at the time, seemed a tragic encounter with Dr. Wulff (his real name).

Clearly his bark was worse than his bite!

14 thoughts on “A Haitian Tale of Veterinary Angst

  1. Hi Kathy:

    This post reminded me a bit of a scene from one of my favourite programs “All Creatures Great and Small”…Siegfried used to get so annoyed with some clients!

    I’m glad you were able to get your forms signed…crossing fingers that you end up in Kentucky soon!



    • Thanks, Wendy. Hopefully we’ll be on our way tomorrow. I’ve never watched “All Creatures Great and Small” and, surprisingly, not read the book yet, either–unusual for an animal lover. Thanks for wishing us well–keep those fingers crossed!


  2. Well I just checked the weather in Kentucky…and I’m fairly certain the first doctor was merely trying to protect the dog from frostbite. 🙂 Have a safe trip home…enjoyed reading your post.


  3. This is so funny. I can imagine it wouldn’t have been too funny at the time.

    When I see someone having a hissy fit, I tend to laugh out loud. Might not be a good idea in some situations.


    • I probably should have laughed! He was insane, I think. I don’t know.

      But laughing might have been better than how I handled it. I didn’t do so well. I got angry as well, which may have enraged him even further.


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