The five-legged dog and the history of veterinary medicine | Science

The five-legged dog and the history of veterinary medicine | Science


On April 11, 1958, some young people dressed in white coats crossed the Gran Vía de Madrid loaded with boxes. The photograph that remains of that journey does not allow to see the content, but very possibly the students transported to their new headquarters in the University City, in addition to laboratory instruments, remains of the Cabinet of Monsters, accumulated since the early years of the Royal College School of Veterinary, founded in 1793. Pigs with eight legs, two-headed cows and Cyclops lambs paraded through the center of the capital that spring day.

Pigs with eight legs and two-headed cows paraded through the Gran Vía de Madrid in 1958

The historian Joaquín Sánchez de Lollano recalls the anecdote at the foot of a dog skeleton with five legs and six feet of the nineteenth century, a survivor of the cabinet that is exhibited in the Museum of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine from the Complutense University of Madrid. The place is so peculiar that recently received the visit of the Spanish Association of Writers of Terror. There are gruesome fetuses in formaldehyde, gigantic castrating devices, samples of tissues with the lethal rabies virus, a collection of foreign bodies found in the guts of animals and thus up to 4,000 unusual historical pieces.

The faculty celebrates these days with talks and exhibitions on the 225th anniversary of the methodical teaching of veterinary medicine in Spain. Today, students learn to extract semen to horses about 500 meters from the office of the President of the Government in the Moncloa Palace, on the edge of the A-6 motorway, but "the veterinary has an origin so illustrious that its first seat It was the Paseo de Recoletos ", underlines Sánchez de Lollano. There, in what is now the National Library, the Royal College of Veterinary School was founded.

Moving in 1958 along the Gran Vía towards the University City of Madrid.
Moving in 1958 along the Gran Vía towards the University City of Madrid.

"Until 1840 it was a military organization and to enter it was necessary to present a certificate of health and robustness," recalls the historian, showing one of the metric tapes used to measure the width of the chest of the students. The students had to be able to shoe a horse, which was then the main patient of the profession. The word veterinary, in fact, comes from albéitar, which in Arabic means "horse healer". The first veterinary school in the world was founded in Lyon, in 1762, to train specialists who were able to cure wounded horses in wars.

"People bitten by dogs with rage in Madrid also went to the Royal College of Veterinary School so that, with these metal instruments put red hot, they cauterize the wound," says Sanchez de Lollano in front of a glass case. "Our entire collection of cauterios has tasted human flesh," he emphasizes with a smile.

Queen Sofia with her donkey in the Veterinary School of the Complutense.
Queen Sofia with her donkey in the Veterinary School of the Complutense.

The profession was considered reserved for men until 1925, when Extremadura María Cerrato Rodríguez became the first veterinary woman in Spain to be able to continue with her father's activity in a herrera. In Madrid, women were 0.1% of the students in 1945, 4% in 1965, 45% in 1985 and 63% in the year 2000, according to the data of María Castaño, the first professor of the faculty. "In this course, of 1,000 students 74% are women," says the dean, Pedro Luis Lorenzo.

Sánchez de Lollano, director of the Museum and veterinarian as well as a historian, believes that the profession is "a huge unknown" to society. "We are dedicated to the control of pests, food, water. And in veterinary medicine they fit from an ant to an elephant. " Its objective is that the Museum -which has been opened with hardly any publicity since 2009- will serve to explain the history of the link between humans and animals and to reclaim the trade, but it needs money.

Pedro Luis Lorenzo, dean of Veterinary, and Joaquín Sánchez de Lollano, director of the Museum.
Pedro Luis Lorenzo, dean of Veterinary, and Joaquín Sánchez de Lollano, director of the Museum.

Some pieces of incalculable value require a restoration. An imposing polychrome wooden horse sculpted in 1845 at life size to teach anatomy has been rescued after spending decades lying in a corner and painted with a ballpoint pen with insults to professors. "We have 400 types of horseshoes, we should be lucky. Let's see if sponsors rain down on us, "jokes the director.

The Madrid school is full of anecdotes, like the one of the tamer who came five years ago with a lion of 218 kilograms whose mouth hurt. The surgeons of the Complutense Veterinary Clinical Hospital extracted a 10-centimeter-long tusk. The dean also remembers when Queen Sofia appeared in 2013 with a donkey calf, possibly descended from one of the pollinos that the Association for the Defense of Borrico gives to the House of the King for 25 years. "The burrito was with us almost a month and the queen came with a lot of discretion to visit him practically two or three times a week," says Lorenzo. "Of course, the donkey went ahead."

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