Re­new­ing the legacy of an­i­mal care

Blue Cross An­i­mal Hos­pi­tal’s ren­o­va­tion a time to cel­e­brate the past, look to the fu­ture

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­ 905-526-3306

I think Dr. Jean would’ve smiled to see it this week­end — the old build­ing made new.

It’s the one her brother es­tab­lished (with much help from her) in 1934, to con­tain Canada’s first vet­eri­nar­ian fa­cil­ity of its kind, pur­pose-built as an an­i­mal “hos­pi­tal,” tak­ing (at the time) both small and large, ham­sters to horses.

Be­tween Novem­ber and July, the his­toric Blue Cross An­i­mal Hos­pi­tal at King and Dun­durn un­der­went a mas­sive ren­o­va­tion, and at Satur­day’s open house the re­sults were un­veiled to the wider public, amid the siz­zle of free bar­be­cue and un­der the sur­gi­cal lamp of a teddy bear-ec­tomy.

As new, bright and trans­formed as the in­te­rior looks now, the old was hon­oured, am­ply so, with pic­tures and lit­er­a­ture on the rich his­tory and also with some archival vet­eri­nar­ian in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing re­tired Dr. Jon Fran­cis’s old tis­sue des­ic­ca­tion nee­dle.

BCAH’s first-in-Canada sta­tus isn’t its only dis­tinc­tion. The afore­men­tioned Dr. Jean refers to Dr. Jean Rum­ney, Canada’s first fe­male vet grad. She helped her brother, Dr. Wilf Rum­ney, when he founded the prac­tice in 1930 and moved to the present build­ing in 1934. She de­cided to en­rol in vet col­lege her­self. She grad­u­ated in 1939.

Just in time. Dr. Wilf went off to war; he re­turned safely but re­tired from the hos­pi­tal shortly af­ter and gave the run of it over ex­clu­sively to his sis­ter, who had done ad­mirably well on her own while he was away.

“We feel so lucky,” says Dr. Kate Lutchin, present co-owner with Dr. Patty Haar­deng.

“We are get­ting to carry on a great legacy,” says Dr. Patty.

That legacy con­sists not only of Dr. Jean’s pi­o­neer­ing role as a fe­male vet, but also a for­ward­look­ing ad­vo­cate on the an­i­mal wel­fare front. She called her an­i­mals “lit­tle peo­ple.” She was a le­gend and, ac­cord­ing to a mem­oir about her that was dis­played on a ta­ble at the open house, her walks down the street were punc­tu­ated with waves from passersby and “even the dogs wagged their tails in recog­ni­tion.”

Drs. Patty and Kate are joined by as­so­ci­ate Dr. Chris­tine Lootsma, so the fe­male pres­ence holds fast and in­tact, and Dr. Jean’s “whole” ap­proach to an­i­mal care is still the com­mand­ing ethos at the prac­tice.

Satur­day’s open house was de­voted to the fu­ture as well, in terms of en­gag­ing and ed­u­cat­ing the young. A big stuffed an­i­mal un­der a blan­ket had the X-ray ap­pa­ra­tus in place over its jaw, pro­ject­ing real im­ages of a dog’s teeth. Dr. Chris­tine was “op­er­at­ing” in the surgery on a teddy bear, with able as­sis­tance from sev­eral chil­dren.

The place is light-filled, with a com­fort­ing am­bi­ence, ty­ing in with Dr. Jean’s em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of the “psy­chol­ogy” of an­i­mal care and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The hos­pi­tal now has four exam rooms, public wash­room, a phar­macy space, lab­o­ra­tory, den­tal suite with full X-ray ca­pac­ity, a surgery and much more open re­cep­tion area, where you’ll of­ten find Tr­ish Cooke when you go in. She’s been at Blue Cross for 28 years. She barely rec­og­nizes the place. So much work needed to be done, but they’re proud they didn’t close even for a day through it.

“When they dug out the back, they found the old ramp that was used to get horses in,” Tr­ish tells me. Now they treat only dogs and cats.

“The place was fall­ing apart,” says Dr. Patty. The trans­for­ma­tion needed to be made. “But,” adds Dr. Kate, “we kept the orig­i­nal foot­print of the build­ing.” The shell is largely the same, though all bright­ened up. And the house Dr. Jean Rum­ney lived in — she died in 1975 — is still be­hind the build­ing.

Many came out for the day — clients with pets, staff, fam­ily mem­bers. Mark Horn­blower was there with his res­cue Ezra, an adorable one-eyed dog.

And, word from post-op: stuffed teddy bear made it through with fly­ing colours. A full re­cov­ery ex­pected.


Dr. Chris­tine Lootsma gets help from Char­lotte Schiedel, 4, dur­ing “surgery” on a teddy bear at the Blue Cross An­i­mal Hos­pi­tal at Dun­durn and King streets on Satur­day. The of­fice had an open house and his­tory ret­ro­spec­tive to ring in its ren­o­va­tion.

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