The Good Doc­tor

The end­lessly in­spir­ing Dr. Patti threw her­self into help­ing the pets of her com­mu­nity and hasn’t looked back

Modern Cat - - Contents - BY TRACEY TONG

This end­lessly in­spir­ing vet threw her­self into help­ing the pets of her com­mu­nity and hasn’t looked back.

I t was the cold­est De­cem­ber that shel­ter ve­teri­nar­ian Dr. Pa­tri­cia Can­chola could re­mem­ber. It had snowed a wet, heavy snow the night be­fore, and cold winds howled through the streets of Pue­blo, Colorado.

On a rou­tine garbage pickup route, a trash col­lec­tor thought he heard a cry­ing baby. Fol­low­ing his in­stincts, he jumped into the back of the truck’s com­pactor area and be­gan to dig. Out rolled a tiny kit­ten, who had been picked up while search­ing for food in a dump­ster.

Com­pletely shocked at his find, the worker rushed the non­re­spon­sive kit­ten to Pue­blo An­i­mal Ser­vices, where Dr. Can­chola was work­ing. Although greasy smelling, ice cold, and very hun­gry, the two-pound kit­ten had mirac­u­lously sur­vived the ro­ta­tions and com­pres­sions of the garbage truck. “After sev­eral warm, soapy, sudsy baths, she still smelled far from a rose and was still non-re­spon­sive and freez­ing,” re­mem­bers Dr. Can­chola, who is known af­fec­tion­ately in an­i­mal wel­fare cir­cles as Dr. Patti. “We pull out all the stops with sup­port­ive care. I fig­ured we had noth­ing to lose and ev­ery­thing to gain but only morn­ing would tell. [Come morn­ing,] as I walked closer to the nurs­ery, I knew her flu­ids were still run­ning as the alarm was not beep­ing. As soon as I turned on the light, the loud­est hun­gry cry met me at the ken­nel door.”

The kit­ten bounced back. “She took full ad­van­tage of her cozy quar­ters, ate what we left with her overnight, and was ready to hit the ground run­ning,” says Dr. Patti. That two-pound kit­ten was given the name Ruby. She was a hit with the staff and the me­dia, who were cap­ti­vated with the story of her amaz­ing res­cue.

“Be­fore we knew it, all the ma­jor TV sta­tions in Pue­blo and South­ern Colorado were lined up to meet ‘Ruby in the Rub­bish,’” says Dr. Patti. She made a full re­cov­ery and was adopted, her happy end­ing thanks to Dr. Patti and her team.

Dr. Patti has al­ways had a soft spot for hurt and stray an­i­mals. Grow­ing up in Pue­blo, she was a mag­net for lo­cal strays.

“I think I picked up ev­ery stray that I ever came across,” she laughs. “I had more re­la­tion­ships with an­i­mals than I did friends in my neigh­bour­hood.” Her par­ents not only al­lowed young Patti to bring home stray dogs and cats, but en­gaged her in games of ‘pet doc­tor,’ where she would pre­tend to ex­am­ine, di­ag­nose, and treat sick stuffed an­i­mals. There was a “def­i­nite de­sire to nur­ture, re­hab, and care for strays, be they hun­gry or in­jured,” she says. “That in con­junc­tion with the fas­ci­na­tion with anatomy, phys­i­ol­ogy, and ba­sic sci­ences, I re­al­ized early on there was only one way to mix the two—be a ve­teri­nar­ian.”

So per­haps it’s no sur­prise that lit­tle girl grew up to be a strong, con­fi­dent, and hard­work­ing an­i­mal doc­tor who would come to be named one of Amer­ica’s best. Last year saw Dr. Patti cho­sen from hun­dreds of nom­i­nees and named the Hero Ve­teri­nar­ian win­ner at the sev­enth an­nual Amer­i­can Hu­mane Hero Dog Awards.

A grad­u­ate of the Colorado State Uni­ver­sity Col­lege of Vet­eri­nary Medicine and Bio­med­i­cal Sci­ences, she worked in Yank­ton, South Dakota and Lake­wood, Colorado be­fore land­ing back in Pue­blo. After plans for her own state-of-the-art clinic un­ex­pect­edly fell through, she hap­pened to hear about an open­ing for a full-time vet at Pue­blo An­i­mal Ser­vices.

Pri­vate prac­tice and shel­ter medicine are as dif­fer­ent as cats and dogs, says Dr. Patti. “Once I ven­tured into shel­ter medicine, I was stunned and shocked to find out what goes on in the com­mu­nity. When I looked at the thou­sands of strays that en­tered our shel­ter, I couldn’t help but won­der, where in the world are they com­ing from?” She dug in and saw “cru­elty and ne­glect cases, geri­atric sur­ren­dered pets, lit­ters and lit­ters of kit­tens, feral cats with in­juries and ill­nesses, cats and dogs hit by cars or mauled by other an­i­mals. I had en­tered the king­dom where a whole new beast was wait­ing.”

I think I picked up ev­ery stray that I ever came across. I had more re­la­tion­ships with an­i­mals than I did friends in my neigh­bour­hood. That in con­junc­tion with the fas­ci­na­tion with anatomy, phys­i­ol­ogy, and ba­sic sci­ences, I re­al­ized early on there was only one way to mix the two—be a ve­teri­nar­ian.

Grievously in­jured cats find their way to her shel­ter’s doorstep all the time. Ear­lier this sum­mer, a stray cat suf­fer­ing from lethargy and vom­it­ing was brought to them. Dr. Patti and her staff found a block­age in his in­tes­tine. They were able to re­move eight inches of bowel and treat him for his ill­ness be­fore re­unit­ing the cat, named Apollo, with his res­cuers. In an­other case, a kit­ten, found stuck in a ma­chine at the lo­cal power plant, was brought to them with a crushed limb. “How she man­aged to find her way into a huge ma­chin­ery shop,” Dr. Patti still doesn’t know. “Her front limb was caught in the ma­chin­ery mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to move,” she con­tin­ued. “It’s es­ti­mated she was stuck for a few days. When she was pre­sented to our surgery cen­ter she was de­hy­drated, mal­nour­ished and had a se­ri­ous crush­ing in­jury to her front limb re­quir­ing am­pu­ta­tion.”

The kit­ten re­cov­ered from her wounds quickly, says Dr. Patti. Adopted by a Viet­nam vet­eran and his wife, the cat was named Cosette after the hero­ine in Les Mis­er­ables. “Cosette is liv­ing the life of the mu­si­cal she was named after," her mom says, "she wants for noth­ing and is in our safe keep­ing.” Pue­blo it­self sees a lot of poverty, which doesn’t help its stray an­i­mal sit­u­a­tion. It’s one of Colorado’s top three cities for unem­ploy­ment and has an av­er­age in­come of just $30,000. Pets be­come the un­in­ten­tional vic­tims of the high poverty lev­els. “It’s still a lit­tle bit shock­ing and I’m still a lit­tle bit sur­prised when I see the high num­ber of an­i­mals that are lost, wan­der­ing, and dis­placed,” she says.

With very lit­tle dis­cre­tionary in­come, pet food and pet care end up at the bot­tom of the totem pole, says Dr. Patti. At the shel­ter, the top two rea­sons for own­ers sur­ren­der­ing their pets are well-known: the in­abil­ity to pro­vide med­i­cal care and food for their pets. After won­der­ing what she could do to help peo­ple keep their pets in the home, the St. Martin’s Well Pet Clinic—a Satur­day-only, non-crit­i­cal, non-emer­gency clinic—was born.

Named for Dr. Patti’s first shel­ter dog, Marty and St. Martin de Por­res, a pa­tron saint of an­i­mals and the pa­tron saint of char­i­ta­ble acts, St. Martin’s Well Pet Clinic opened in April 2010 and has since ex­tended its hours due to de­mand. It is run com­pletely by vol­un­teers. When Dr. Patti men­tioned her idea, her vet clinic clients, who have since grown to be­come close friends, stepped for­ward to vol­un­teer their time.

The clinic op­er­ates on a slid­ing scale. “If they can’t af­ford it, we fig­ure it out,” says Dr. Patti. “We make it hap­pen. Whether [the con­tri­bu­tion is] a dol­lar, two dol­lars, three dol­lars, I think it gives a sense of pride that they were able to do some­thing for their pets.”

Fre­quently, Dr. Patti would see strays come into the shel­ter with their ribs on

I had en­tered a king­dom where a whole new beast was wait­ing.

dis­play. It broke her heart. “That’s hunger at its worst,” she says. So Dr. Patti founded a non-profit pet food bank, called Amazin’ Amos Pet Pantry, to help hun­dreds of lo­cal fam­i­lies feed their pets ev­ery year.

But for all the good work she’s done in the com­mu­nity, Dr. Patti doesn’t see an end in sight. “We know many sit­u­a­tions will never change so we plan on be­ing around to help,” she says. “We don’t see it as giv­ing up our Satur­days.”

That gen­eros­ity is not lost on oth­ers. “I’ve de­vel­oped a great deal of re­spect for shel­ter vet­eri­nar­i­ans over the years, and what they do be­hind the lines is one of the less glo­ri­ous as­pects of be­ing a ve­teri­nar­ian,” says Dr. Mike McFar­land of the pet com­pany Zoetis. “It’s hard to imag­ine a more com­pas­sion­ate and ded­i­cated pro­fes­sional than Dr. Patti. I can’t think of any­one who de­serves this award more.”

In­deed, one of the least glo­ri­ous as­pects of Dr. Patti’s work is the abuse cases she sees.

As soon as she started work­ing in shel­ter medicine, Dr. Patti found her­self in court on a con­sis­tent ba­sis, work­ing side-by-side with an­i­mal law en­force­ment ev­ery day to bring an­i­mal wel­fare cases to jus­tice. She felt it was cru­cial to present in­for­ma­tion with a sci­en­tific, foren­sic ap­proach, so she took as many on­line cour­ses sur­round­ing an­i­mal cru­elty, court eti­quette, and foren­sics stud­ies as she could, even­tu­ally earn­ing a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Hav­ing been in­volved with “more cases than I’d like to count,” Dr. Patti has helped bring down penal­ties from mone­tary fines to ex­tended prison sen­tences. “To be the ad­vo­cate and the voice for those who have be­come the vic­tims of hu­man in­dif­fer­ence and hate is the hard­est part of my po­si­tion, but the most im­por­tant,” she says. “It helps know­ing my voice for the pet was heard, but some­times, the emo­tion comes out at home where I can re­lease the frus­tra­tion and tears.”

While there are happy end­ings like Ruby’s, Cosette’s, and Apollo’s, there are still many other cases that don’t end so well. “Wher­ever there is spousal abuse or child abuse, I can guar­an­tee if there’s a pet in the home, he or she is also the vic­tim of abuse and more times than not it does re­sult in death.”

She hopes that with con­tin­ued ed­u­ca­tion cen­tred around re­spon­si­ble pet own­er­ship, that there are fewer cases of ne­glect and abuse. Un­til then, she is de­ter­mined to keep work­ing on be­half of the an­i­mals.

When asked what other projects she has up her sleeve, even the tire­less Dr. Patti is, un­der­stand­ably, at a loss.

“I don’t know what I could pos­si­bly do next as I seem to use up all my spare min­utes help­ing pets and fam­i­lies,” says the 55-year-old. But two months ago, she started the pa­per­work to con­vert St. Martin’s into a non-profit en­tity. “There is such a need for mi­nor sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures and den­tals in the com­mu­nity,” she says. “Once our non-profit sta­tus is granted, I plan on sub­mit­ting re­quests for grants to pur­chase equip­ment that would help pro­vide such ser­vices. We should be hear­ing some good news any day or week now.” And to think that all this started be­cause she ac­ci­den­tally stum­bled into her job as a shel­ter ve­teri­nar­ian. “Had I not stepped into the area of shel­ter medicine, I would never have re­al­ized the need for ba­sic pre­ven­ta­tive medicine and pet food,” she says. “I know what my pets mean to me and so I would hope that I have a deep sense of em­pa­thy for what fam­i­lies are go­ing through. Be­ing able to help them when I can and how­ever I can makes my heart happy. I truly be­lieve it takes a spe­cial kind of per­son to be the voice for the voice­less and I feel as though this is my

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.