A fond farewell from Howard Magazine's vet columnist

For Howard Magazine
A local vet reflects on nearly five decades in the field.

When I graduated from Michigan State University with my veterinary medicine degree in 1969, I could not have predicted the great experiences ahead of me, how much the practice of veterinary medicine would change — and when my personal journey might conclude.

Back in ’69, we still dialed rotary phones, astronauts had just landed on the moon, the Vietnam War raged, and there were no cell phones, home computers or Internet. In medicine, we still administered injections from reusable glass syringes — and had to sharpen our own hypodermic needles! Compared to today, both human and veterinary medicine were still in their relative infancy. At school, I was honored to be on the very first heart bypass surgery unit for animals.

Over nearly 50 years since, I felt as if I were on a rocket ride, witnessing and participating in an unprecedented boom in technological development and human knowledge. Use of plastics revolutionized medical practice as it became the norm for such simple but crucial tools as syringes and IV catheters. Better vaccines evolved. When I started, cats were considered old by 10 or 11—now we have pets living into their 20s.

From the time I opened Columbia Animal Hospital in 1974, I dedicated our practice to keeping up with medical advances, constantly upgrading our equipment and skills to better serve our clients. In the mid-1980s,for example,a little dog belonging to Feldman’s Pharmacy owners Les and Stephanie Feldman swallowed a bone that became lodged in its esophagus. Unfortunately, I was unable to save their dog — spurring me to learn endoscopy and purchase the equipment needed to save other pets in similar situations.

Illnesses such as feline leukemia and hyperthyroid disease were recognized, and better treatments developed. In the late 1970s, I witnessed the parvovirus epidemic which killed hundreds of thousands if not millions of dogs — and the eventual development of a preventive vaccine.Dogs were dying of canine distemper — and improved vaccines helped us prevent that scourge, too. Cats were going blind due to feline hypertension — with training from veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Janet Isherwood in Catonsville, I learned how to measure blood pressure in pets in order to detect and prevent this disease in older cats.

Now-common methods for pain management were unknown when I graduated. Ultrasound became a standard of diagnostic care in our practice. Pets now benefit from pacemakers, kidney transplants, arthroscopic surgery, laparoscopy, rapid in-house diagnostics and advancements in therapy and surgery we only dreamed about back then. So much scientific progress — and the best is yet to come.

During more than four decades living and working in Howard County, I’ve been privileged to be part of community and civic organizations including the Howard County Board of Health, Howard County Hospital Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce; and to serve as President of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association. As part of my volunteer work with the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, I helped establish the local PetSafe Program, ensuring that domestic abuse victims seeking help could also keep their beloved pets out of danger. I’m pleased that I helped launch the Mutt Mitt public health program, a system of pet-waste disposal stations around the county keeping our public spaces cleaner and safer for all to enjoy.

It’s both humbling and gratifying when efforts are noticed, but most humbling of all is the trust our clients have placed in me and my colleagues, asking us to take care of their pets. It’s been my good fortune to have the best and most caring clients imaginable. They and their adorable pets have made my career a joy: in almost 50 years, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of days I did not want to come to work.

When I sold the practice in 2006 to VCA Animal Hospitals, I continued to serve as medical director for several more years. Now, I’ve reached a point where it’s time to move on to another phase of my life. I know Columbia Animal Hospital will continue to offer our clients and their pets the same care and compassion as always.

When I’ve discussed our practice with other veterinarians, they were in awe of what we were doing — making me feel that I achieved my goal of providing the highest standard of service possible. But it’s been our clients and the love they’ve shown for their pets that have truly inspired me to live up to the philosophy of my veterinary school mentor, Dr. Wade Brinker: “Treat each pet as if it were your own.”

Leaving anything you love as much as I’ve loved practicing veterinary medicine is inevitably bittersweet. But outside of work, I’ve been blessed to have my wonderful wife, April, and our two outstanding daughters, Elizabeth and Jackie. I also have a terrific son-in-law, Steve, and the genuine highlights of our family, our grandkids Penelope, Warner and recently arrived grand-twins Franklin and Lena.

As I hang up my lab coat for the last time, I want to thank my colleagues, including Howard Weinstein of Day One Dog Training for his help writing and researching this column. I also want to thank my clients and all their pets for the best ride anyone could hope for. I love you all very much. 

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