I graduated from Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine in the spring of 1985. A scientist, with little patience for practice, all I focused on at the time was pathology: the study of disease. And I loved it!
I entered a post-doctoral program at Michigan State University in Comparative Cardiovascular Pathology, soon thereafter, I transferred to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore to work on a PhD the following year.
Recently married, teaching Anatomy and Biology at University of Maryland University College and the University of the District of Columbia, my major professor, lost his research funding and I burned out with academia. At the urging of my wife, I decided to forgo my scientific goals. I needed a break. I went into sales – and stayed for the next 16 years.
In 2001, saddened by the loss of colleagues after the World Trade Center bombing, I, a First Vice President at Morgan Stanley, decided to return to my first love: veterinary medicine.
For three years, I sat in the library at the University of Maryland Medical School – relearning my craft. Securing my license to practice in the fall of 2006, I gave myself a three year internship learning at the feet of many accomplished practitioners in the area.
What I discovered surprised me. I wasn’t interested in surgery (too many people do it well, and love it) and I wasn’t interested in all the ‘new toys’: ultrasounds, lasers, dental equipment, even though I became proficient in their use.
I found myself drawn to other aspects of medicine – early diagnosis, palliative and hospice care: calming and talking to the pet parents about what their pet was experiencing, and finding ways to prevent the effects of disease from reaching advanced stages and it’s resultant effects: pain.
After years of pathology, studying the long-term effects of drugs and lifestyle on animal and human tissues, I wanted to practice a more integrative approach to medicine – concentrating on the pets with the most history in our lives: our geriatric dogs and cats and their concerned owners.
I’ve had many dogs in my life. My first: a dachshund, Pepper, was a joy! Energetic, this little hunter was a constant companion. Sadly – he was poisoned by a neighbor and I learn the pain of death at age 6.
My next dog, Sargent, was a large German Shepherd who ruled the back yard and the front of the house by sheer intimidation, protecting my sister and I, while growing up in San Diego California.
Looking back, I am ashamed. Sargent never received dental care. Why? We didn’t know any better. Sargent would grasp a scrap of hard wood: a two-three foot long 4×4, and toss it around like a ‘desportes vascos’ or Basque rural sports champion.
His teeth were so ground down from wear that the roots were exposed. He exhibited trismus, or that unconscious nervous tick where the jaw twitches, a clear sign of nerve damage and/or pain. But Sargent played on, he was a Shepherd, a working dog, that lived outside in a dog house in all elements, all-year round.
This was the 60s. We all sucked up pain back then. I was in the street, bare-footed, dodging cars playing tackle football. We, my neighbors and I, also participated in canyon chasm-tossing rock fights were you didn’t stop playing until someone got hit in the head and went home crying. Hence, my stubborn nature.
My next dog, a gorgeous Irish Setter, Shawn, was the equivalent of the blond female comic stereotype, pretty to look at: dumb as twigs. This dog (did I say how handsome he was?), once jumped into Lake Washington right near the yacht club in Bellevue Washington and swam out – trying to catch some ducks or maybe geese. They’d let him get only so close, and then they’d flap their wings – water walking, 20 feet away, giving him confidence that he’d catching them eventually. I watched in horror as I, sans boat, saw him tire and flounder. Luckily, a couple, in some sort of skiff, motored over, pulled my cur from the drink and brought him back to shore.
Tuckered out, happy to be back on land, he repaid me with constant ear infections. Now, this was the 70s, no one told me or knew how to prevent this. Water dogs swim! My vet offered only surgery. We took it.
Even today, only a few of us, discuss diet change to prevent these conditions. Dachshunds, centuries ago (today?), ate what their owners ate in Bavaria, hence they didn’t develop the spinal conditions our processed diets produce here. Swimming or hunting dogs and working breeds like Shepherds didn’t get chronic ear infections from dietary imbalances causing constant head shaking and ear hematomas.
These conditions are a recent (last thirty years) reality and it’s important to give pet parents options besides ‘live with it,’ steroids and surgery.
Dismayed and convinced when I reached middle age that I didn’t want to practice medicine that would duplicate my frustrations as a child, I sought out training in food therapy, acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy and Tui-Na (medical massage).
I secured my certifications in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, from the Chi Institute in 2010 and started integrating Western and Eastern Medicine in my house call practice for both smalll animals as well as horses.
Today, I find myself zeroing in on conditions that frustrated me as a child: arthritis and other ambulatory conditions, ear infections and chronic challenges that can be prevented or managed with early diagnosis and dietary changes.
Life is good! Although my dogs suffered by my lack of knowledge. They taught me lessons I love preventing today!