Renewing the legacy of animal care
Blue Cross Animal Hospital’s renovation a time to celebrate the past, look to the future
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.