The latest news regarding COVID-19 and the 2022 Mountain WorkshopsShow me more

Life and death decisions

Cynthiana veterinarian Dr. Emily Bridge waits for a cow to be put in the cattle chute during a pregnancy herd check on a farm in Bourbon County.

At the Harrison Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Emily Bridge takes X-rays of a goose named Mick. He stands on the X-ray table, his eye tearing, red, and barely open, with a massive growth protruding from the side of his face.

Emily quickly determines there is a cancerous tumor degrading the bird's skull. In a calm, matter of fact tone, she tells Mick’s owner, Denise Andrews, that there is nothing she can do to treat the tumor.

The best option is to put Mick down.

As Emily waits patiently, quiet and reassuring, Denise considers the situation, staring at the X-rays on the screen. Her eyes well up and her voice begins to quiver.

"Are you sure?" Denise asks.

Emily is sure. 

For the veterinarian, sometimes the hardest part of her job is supporting the animals' owners. She's up to the challenge.

"It's a passion for people, more so than a lot of jobs are," Emily says. "It seems like people that do it are really drawn to it."

Emily has been working at the clinic for five and a half years. She grew up in neighboring Scott County, and now lives on eight acres in Cynthiana with her own two dogs, a cat and her husband.

In a typical workday, she treats both large and small animals, including livestock and beloved pets like Mick. The scope of her cases ranges widely, from performing surgery on chihuahuas with dislocated knees to conducting pregnancy herd checks on local cattle farms.

Sometimes,  Emily says, the strong emotions associated with her cases conflict with economic realities.

“[When people] bring in their animal that they love," she says, "and then you tell them it's going to be $1,000 to treat this, all they see is that you're not treating their pet when you could." 

In the examining room, standing over Mick, Denise makes her decision.

“If you surround yourself with living things," she says finally, "you have to accept that they will die."


Emily and Bourbon County cattle farmer Meg Dumaine use a plank of wood to move the cow away from full cattle chute to check if the cow is pregnant. Meg was happy that most of her cows would be having calves.
Emily's veterinary tools, which she used to administer an IV to a sick cow, lay on the hay-covered floor of a barn in Bourbon County during a farm visit.
Chrissy Cram kisses her pet dwarf cow, Lola, on her cattle farm in Bourbon County. "We gotta get you back up and running, sister," Chrissy says while Emily hooks Lola up to an IV. Lola was injured when she got her hooves trimmed and has not been able to stand up since. Chrissy has been sleeping in the barn with her while she's been sick. "She’s only 2," Chrissy says. "It sucks. She's my baby."
Emily performs surgery on Baisley, a chihuahua with a torn ACL and a dislocated knee, while her mentor and colleague, Dr. James Rice, looks on. She and James are like family, she says. Before she bought her home in Cynthiana, she would stay at James house a few nights a week when she was on emergency call.
After work, Emily walks her dogs, Jack and Charlotte, on her property in Cynthiana. "I spend a lot of time walking the dogs," Emily says. "Out in the back they run around and do the zoomies and it's good fun."
After cooking and eating dinner together, Emily and her husband, Brad Keesler, feed their border collies, Charlotte and Jack. "They're like our kids," Emily says.
Emily and Brad play with Emily's nephew Quincy Jerome, 3, and her sister, Lorie Bridge, in her sister's home in Georgetown. Emily's parents, as well as four of her five older siblings and nine nieces and nephews, live in or around Harrison County.
Emily checks the heartbeat of a goose named Mick as his owner, Denise Andrews, cries while holding his body. Mick was euthanized because of a malignant tumor on his face. "I hate to put anything down," Denise says.
Emily and veterinary technician Constance Wheeler cut out foot rot on three goats in a trailer behind the Harrison Veterinary Clinic. The goat in the foreground was later put down at its owners' farm because of an infection in its leg.
Emily scans a herd of cattle during a pregnancy check. For each of the 25 cows in the herd, she had to jump into the chute and back out again. "I'm kind of sore!" she says the following day.
Emily climbs up and out of the cattle chute during the herd check.