My life is full of weird coincidences that range from the banal to the bizarre, but the one that intrigues me the most involves Sarah, Sarah, and Sarah.
In my lifetime as a cat caretaker, I’ve worked with about a dozen veterinarians, but each of these Sarahs shared characteristics that made them outstanding vets and genuinely cool human beings.
Dr. Sarah Tomalty was my Sinéad and Siouxsie’s first “real vet” — that is, a vet I went to for ongoing, long-term care and not just for vaccinations and spays. Once a year I’d bring both of them in at the same time for their checkups. She would give each kitty a once-over and give me time to ask any questions I might have about their health and care.
Some of the questions I asked might have put lesser vets on the defensive. At one checkup, I asked about vaccinations. I’d read that vaccines can sometimes lead to cancer, and that overvaccination made cats sick. “I’m not saying I don’t want my cats to be vaccinated at all,” I told her, “but I am concerned about the potential health risks.”
Instead of pooh-poohing me, she said that she too had read some information in the journals suggesting a connection between certain vaccines and cancer. We worked together to come up with a vaccination schedule for my cats that would protect them but not expose them to unnecessary risks.
Dr. Tomalty was also the first vet to whom I “came out” as a raw feeder. This was pretty revolutionary in the mid-1990s, and many vets would have scolded me for not feeding regular cat food. Instead, Dr. Tomalty asked me what recipes I was using. I explained that my recipes came from a book written by a veterinarian and that those recipes had been tested and confirmed to meet cats’ nutritional needs. She was fine with that and said, “You can’t argue with good health!”
Dr. Tomalty set the bar for what a vet should be, and she was the person who taught me what a good vet should be.
Dr. Sarah Noble came to me at a pretty sad time in my life. I’d just moved to a new city, and my beloved Dahlia was terribly sick. Just two days before I’d rushed her to the emergency clinic when she was in severe respiratory distress. After they stabilized her, they referred me to Dr. Noble for an ultrasound to determine what was making Dahlia’s chest fill with fluid.
When Dr. Noble came back with the ultrasound results, I could tell from her face that the news wasn’t good. Dahlia had three tumors — one along her breast bone, one in her liver, and one near her spleen. She gave me this news in a compassionate tone and gave me time to process the information before moving forward with her recommendations, which included a biopsy.
The biopsy results came back, and the news was worse than I could have expected: Between the pathology report and a follow-up ultrasound, the prognosis was grim: atypical large-cell lymphoma, and the tumors were growing despite treatment with steroids and antibiotics.
“Even if we did do chemotherapy,” she told me, “she might have another few months, and she’d most likely be suffering the whole time.” I could hear in her voice that she cared deeply about Dahlia and me. It’s a real talent to deliver bad news in a way that helps people understand the reality of the situation but also takes into account their emotions and their bond with a beloved furry family member.
Dr. Sarah Brandon performed a miracle: She turned my “terrified trembler” cat into an extroverted explorer. When she came into the exam room, the first thing she did was sit on the floor and hold a polite hand out for Thomas to approach. She spoke quietly and moved slowly, and she knew all the right places to pet a cat for maximum purr output. She taught Thomas to love the vet clinic (most likely because he was gaga over her).
Dr. Brandon shared my cats’ test results with me by email, and she always answered any questions I had about them. Often those replies would have been sent at 1 a.m. or some other equally obscene hour to be working, but that showed me her dedication to her patients and her clients.
Most importantly, though, she worked closely with me to help my sweet Siouxsie’s final year as good and pain-free as possible.
Dr. Brandon and her husband, who is also a veterinarian, developed a medical cannabis supplement for pets. That supplement helped to ease Siouxsie’s arthritis pain until just a couple of months before the end of her life. She was gentle and kind with Siouxsie, and she too was happy to answer all my nerdy questions about cat care.
I was sad to see Dr. Brandon leave the practice, but I understood why: The medical cannabis business was taking off beyond their wildest expectations, and she needed to devote her efforts to the business full-time. I stayed in touch with Dr. Brandon even after she left the practice, and when I informed her that Siouxsie had passed on, she expressed her condolences and compassion to me in a very personal way.
Have you ever had a bunch of vets that shared the same name? Have you been lucky enough to have an awesome vet? Share your amazing vet stories in the comments!
Read about more Catster Heroes:
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.