Dr. Donald W. Zantop, co-owner of the Fallston Veterinary Clinic who was noted for his avian rescue work, died Oct. 13 in a diving accident off Bald Head Island, N.C.
The Fallston resident, who was 59, had been collecting underwater fossils with friends when the accident occurred.
Dr. Zantop was airlifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., where he was pronounced dead.
The incident remains under investigation by the Coast Guard, according to news reports.
"My only consolation is that he died doing something he really enjoyed," said his high school sweetheart and wife of 39 years, the former Suzanne Merlo, who is hospital manager for her husband's practice.
"Don was a certified technical wreck diver … and had logged more than 800 dives," she said.
Dr. Zantop, who was born in Arlington, Va., and raised in Allen Park, Mich., had aspired to a veterinary career from the time he was 7 years old, his wife said.
He was an Eagle Scout, and after graduating from Allen Park High School, he enrolled at Eastern Michigan University. He later transferred to Michigan State University, where he earned his veterinary degree in 1976.
Dr. Zantop worked in a veterinary practice in Silver Spring for three years before becoming part-owner in 1979 of the Fallston Veterinary Clinic, where he specialized in treating small animals. He also was an avian and exotic animal practitioner.
"Don's death is so tragic. We go back many years to the early 1970s, when he came into the area not long after I started my career," said Dr. John E. Brooks, a veterinarian who is the former owner of Fork Veterinary Hospital and now manages Bel Air Veterinary Hospital.
"He had a strong affinity for avian medicine and was one of the pioneers … certainly in our area. He was the go-to guy in this field," said Dr. Brooks, who served as state deputy secretary of agriculture from 2003 until 2007. "He was committed to his community and veterinary community. He was the full package and the consummate veterinarian."
"Dr. Zantop was one of the 100 board-certified avian experts in the world," said Sharon Pfeiffer of Crofton, whose macaws, African gray parrots and cockatoos were cared for by Dr. Zantop.
"We were very lucky to have a vet like him in our area, and has been mine since 1997. He was just phenomenal. Some vets are good with animals and not people, but he was really good with both," said Ms. Pfeiffer. "He was a really good guy."
"He had a worldwide reputation as an avian veterinarian," said Dr. Greg Harrison, a veterinarian and friend of 30 years, who is also the founder of The Bird Hospital in Florida, and Harrison's Bird Food.
"Don was the No. 1 … avian specialist in Maryland. He was a bigger-than life person who taught us our wildlife credentials, and that was more than 20 years ago. He was so damn smart," said Ms. Woods. "I was so inspired by him, and I wanted him to be proud of me when I was in the field. He was my hero and always treated me like a peer."
Since 2004, Ms. Woods has been state-certified to handle the recovery of injured bald eagles.
"He was the vet in Maryland who treated bald eagles. He'd do a $10,000 bald eagle surgery and only charge me 31 cents for the X-ray. He never charged us what he should have. He was always behind us and knew that we were a nonprofit," she said.
Dr. Zantop was the avian specialty exam chairman of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and president of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the Mid-Atlantic States Association of Avian Veterinarians.
For the last 35 years, he had been a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and was president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association and was secretary of the Maryland Veterinary Foundation. He was also a member of the Greater Baltimore and Harford County veterinary medical associations.
Dr. Zantop wrote widely on avian veterinary matters in the Journal of the Association of Avian Veterinarians and was a co-author of "Avian Medicine: Principles and Application."
In addition to Phoenix Wildlife Rescue, Dr. Zantop provided pro bono medical care at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, Wildlife Rescue and the Carrie Murray Nature Center in Leakin Park.
"Don was truly what we all aspire to be. We're far better off for having him in our lives. He gave us so much in making us better people," said Dr. Brooks. "He also reminded us that life is so fragile."
In addition to diving, Dr. Zantop was an avid sailor and who enkoyed boating in the Chesapeake Bay as well as the Caribbean, Belize and Thailand. He also was a world traveler.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 28 at St. James Episcopal Church, 3100 Monkton Road, in Monkton.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Zantop is survived by his daughter, Ettienne H. Zantop, a junior at Salisbury University; his father, Harold Zantop of Martinsville, Ind.; his mother, Barbara Wray of O'Brien, Fla.; three brothers, Michael Zantop of Fort Lauderdale, David Zantop of Belleville, Mich., and Douglas Zantop of O'Brien, Fla.; and two sisters, Melissa Zantop of Littleton, Colo., and Melanie Zantop of O'Brien, Fla.