Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Wife's Cat.

We just celebrated our 5th Annual Pets with Santa event last Sunday the 5th of December. We have, since the first year Joe and I owned JVC in 2006, done this all day event where my brother, a professional photographer, takes pictures for free, and we invite everyone in for a day of fun, great pictures, open house, and meet and greet the JVC staff.

Of all the things we do all year this is my favorite day! It is the one day everyone is here to celebrate, rejoice, and share the love we all have for our pets, our patients, and our families.
For the third year in a row, my favorite feline patient was here with her mom to share this day. Her name is Rizzy. I met here very early in my career here at JVC. As I think back on those events I am sure it was my first month, or so. I was also about two months out of Vet School, excited, nervous, but chomping at the bit to "save the pet world with my newly minted skills."

I came to JVC with the dual purpose of learning from a great, wise, and seasoned Vet, and to buy his practice after a needed 5 years of “grooming, molding, and preparing” to take the reins from him. Dr. Wilson was a patient, hard-working, intelligent man and I was honored to be allowed the chance to prove myself worthy enough to man the helm of the practice he had built. I was determined and ambitious about this endeavor and new chapter of my life.
But I realized early on that the generation gap between us meant more than “new” vs “old” medicine. It was the difference between who we served. I saw my duty as preserving and protecting the life of my patients and he saw his duty as serving the needs and desires of his clients. It is a subject I grapple with everyday. I have been yelled at, screamed at, demanded of, reported for “unprofessional” demeanor, reported to the Better Business Bureau, and been told a whole lot more than once that “I will never come back here again.” I have learned that it is far easier, and more profitable, to be the communities friend, than an animals’ advocate. I have had heated discussions with just about everyone important in my life about this topic, but I have also learned that I can’t face myself in the mirror everyday than to do this job any other way. If I ever leave veterinary medicine I am sure that it will for this reason. Even though I see people’s love for their pets every single day, the law and society still view pets as possessions, and they are disposable. So I choose to try to live every day by just trying to follow our JVC motto “to always be kind.”
OK, back to Rizzy: I first met her way back in the early days of being at JVC. She was a patient of Dr. Wilson’s because her parents were long time clients and the owners of the local household dry goods store, (did I mention that Jarrettsville is a small town)? Anyway, I came into the surgery area one afternoon and saw a sedated white and black tabby cat lying on the surgery table. I asked Dr. Wilson what he was doing because it looked like this cat was being prepped for surgery but he wasn’t yet scrubbed in. He said that the cat had just been brought in because she was run over by her owner in their driveway. He went on to explain that he didn’t think the owners were going to pursue any further treatment for her because she was the owners ex-wife’s cat, and that the new wife wasn’t too fond of her. He told me that if the prognosis for her wasn’t good for her based on the extent of her injuries, then the owner's didn’t want to pursue any further treatment. I looked at the x-rays and the cats leg and thought, “Well, Thank Goodness! A broken leg isn’t life-threatening.” Dr. Wilson was more concerned about whether the owners wanted this cat, than whether the cat could survive the impact with the rear tire.
In typical “Dr. Magnifico fashion” I dug my heels into the ground and prepared for a fight. And in typical "Dr. Wilson fashion," he merely smiled and prepared to negotiate. (To this day I have a lot to learn from this man). His diplomatic approach, although not exactly  kosher nor politically correct, somehow always left him golden. He is like Teflon, nothing ever sticks to him, everything can go wrong and he can walk away smelling like roses. If he is Snoopy I am definitely Pig Pen or Charlie Brown.
Dr. Wilson went back to talk to the owners and I stayed frozen in contemplation and consternation beside the surgical table. When he returned he told me that the owners didn’t want to pursue surgery. I jumped into protests as soon as he finished explaining Rizzy’s owners’ decision. I began pleading and negotiating even though the little voice in my head reminded me that I was definitely the new, low man on the totem pole, and proposed candidate in line for the throne. I told him that I would do the surgery for free (although being a new grad the idea of this scared me to death) to try to save this cat. And I wanted Dr. Wilson to go back to talk to Rizzy’s owners and put this offer on the table. I remember him pausing, looking into my eyes, and then turning around to go back to talk to the owners.

As soon as he came back he started Rizzy’s surgery.
While he was in the midst of amputating her back leg I poked my head into surgery again. From that moment on we both knew where each other’s line in the sand was drawn. It meant that the transition from one owner to the next would require a definite passing of the baton.
Rizzy’s surgery went well and she recovered uneventfully. Rizzy stayed with us for a few weeks after her surgery while her parents decided whether or not they wanted an inside cat, and whether they wanted the “‘ex’s old forgotten, left behind cat.” For the next few weeks Rizzy became my latest pet project. I carried her around the clinic with me all of the time I could, and I spent hours reminding her that she was still a loved kitty. When I couldn’t be with her I left her under the front desk with the receptionists for a little extra attention.

When Rizzy’s new mom came in to pick her up I carried Rizzy into the exam room to go over my concerns with Rizzy being a three legged, and a now inside only, three legged cat. I also wanted to see how she interacted with Rizzy. And I was having a tough time turning Rizzy over to anyone.

Rizzy’s new mom seemed genuinely kind and committed to trying to make a new life for all of them. I leaned in towards her, cuddled Rizzy in my arms, and whispered to her, “If you ever don’t want her, or can’t keep her, I would like to have her.”

She looked up at me and said, “Thanks, but I think we will be just fine,” and then smiled. I believed her then, and she has been right.

They are now best friends and I have never seen anyone else bring Rizzy into us. Rizzy’s parents travel often so it isn’t uncommon at all to see a small white tabby sleeping quietly under the front desk.

Rizzy lived a long happy very loved life. She was brought to us on July 10, 2015, 10 years after she lost her leg, and died of very old age among all of her friends. She was loved and she will be missed.

Of all of my many patients she was the one  that defined who I became and reminded me of what I always longed to be. She was the cat who drew my line in my life. I am grateful to have known her.


  1. I love your values. Praise to you.

  2. The greatest compliment I ever received was from a lady who told me "When I die can I come back to you as one of your pets?" Dr. Magnifico, can I come back as one of yours?