Veterinarians often have better connections to their clients than human patients have to their own medical doctors.
I knew our 15 1/2-year old miniature Australian Shepherd Lucy was declining, but she was holding her own as I left town several years ago to speak at a veterinary conference.
A day later, my wife, Robin, phoned from Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center telling me that Lucy, a 22 lb. dog, had suffered a bout a bloat. (Bloat actually refers to two conditions. The first is gastric dilatation,in which the stomach distends with gas and fluid. The second is volvulus, in which the distended stomach rotates on its long axis.)
Bloat typically occurs in larger dogs, over 35 or 40 lbs., and may require surgery. In our case, that wasn’t necessary.
The internal medicine specialist, though, was not optimistic about Lucy – feeling that perhaps there was a still to be diagnosed underlying problem causing bloat in an elderly smaller dog.
I returned home the next day to find a far more confused dog; she definitely needed a canine walker as she had difficulty with balance. Still, with as much as I am supposed to know and advise others – Lucy was our dog, so being objective was difficult.
I must have known in my heart, this could be the end. I even investigated Dr. Alice Villalobos excellent ‘Quality of Life Scale.”
Then, I took Lucy to her general practitioner, Dr. Natalie Marks.
I walked into the exam room with Lucy walking ever so slowly behind me.
Dr. Marks, who had spoken to the internal medicine specialist, looked at Lucy and then looked at me. Her eyes began to tear up. I knew then exactly what she was telling me, though she didn’t say a word.
We hugged. We cried.
The next day Dr. Marks came to our home to euthanize one of the most amazing dogs ever.
Lucy touched countless lives, as she was an animal assisted therapy dog. She was named for Lucille Ball. It was a perfect fit- as she had a knack for making people laugh.
When Lucy entered a room – everyone knew it, as she announced her entrance with “Wha Hoo!”
Once our animal assisted therapy assignment was to help a little boy – about 12 years old – to better use his voice by calling to Lucy from the other side of the large room. Thing is, the boy was afraid of dogs. Why would he ever want to call a dog who he was afraid of?
I tried telling a few jokes:
Q: Why shouldn’t you tell a secret to pigs?
A: Because pigs are squealers.
Each time I told a joke, Lucy, would howl “Wha hoo.”
The jokes didn’t make the boy laugh, but Lucy did. And within 10 minutes, Lucy somehow broke the ice, and the boy quietly began to ask Lucy to “sit” or “roll over.” He was amazed that she listened to him. Lucy knew over a dozen little tricks, from “playing dead” to jumping through hoops.
Dr. Marks came to our home. Our other pets may have known it was time for Lucy to “cross-over,” or not. We all said a tearful goodbye. On the balcony where Lucy sunned herself countless times, it was the gentle ending it was supposed to be.
I like my doctor just fine, and happily have rarely needed him except for advice about the occasional bout with the flu. However, I can’t imagine that I will ever share the connection I have with Dr. Marks.
I trust her advice implicitly. She’s really smart, is an excellent diagnostician, and keeps up with the latest in veterinary medicine, which isn’t an easy task. And our animals love her. They actually don’t mind going to the vet clinic.
But what’s most important is the connection she has to her clients, her communication skills and her empathy. She truly cares – in fact, I don’t know how one person can have room in their heart for so many.
I wasn’t surprised when – out of all veterinarians in America – she was one of 20 finalists for the American Veterinary Medical Foundation America’s Favorite Veterinarian. I hope you VOTE FOR DR. MARKS.
No matter, she will always be our veterinarian of the year.