What Does It Take to Be a Saint? Does Your Veterinarian Qualify?


Yesterday was the feast day of St. James the Greater, the patron saint of veterinarians. Unlike normal people, I have a stable of veterinarians who care for my pets. Without downplaying the dedication and suffering of the divine saints, I believe most vets are saints in their own right for looking after the health of cats and dogs.

What does it take to officially be declared a saint? A candidate for sainthood must be:

1. Dead for at least five years

Forget that!

2. A heroic death is another plus

We want our veterinary saints alive, hopefully for a long time so they can continue their good works.

3. “Heroic virtue,” which means a highly virtuous person doing extraordinary good works

There are heroic vets like O.J. Shaffer of Flower Mound Veterinary Hospital. More than 20 years ago I frantically called him five minutes before closing. In front of my home I found a kitty who had been hit by a car and couldn’t walk. Dr. Shaffer held back his entire staff until they could examine the young male cat. X-rays revealed a fractured pelvis. TLC and confinement were the only necessary treatments. Dr. Shaffer knew the cat was a stray and didn’t charge me a dime. By the time Basil had fully recovered, he was my cat. Thanks to my vet, Basil lived to the amazing age of 21.

I have a wonderful rescue vet in Denton: Cassie Epstein, owner of the Animal Hospital on Teasley Lane. I’ve known Cassie since she was a vet tech at the same clinic. When one of my kitties really needs help, Dr. Epstein always manages to work me in despite her insanely busy schedule.

Cassie provides veterinary services for the city of Denton and countless area rescue groups. She always has a cat or dog released to her that someone wanted euthanized. Cassie uses all of her guiles to rehome hopeless animals.

Once I was in there and she begged me to take a Siamese-mix who had survived a coyote attack. No. No. No. All vet bills free? No. No. No.

Next thing I know I’m like little Ralphie in The Christmas Story agreeing with Santa that he wanted a football for Christmas. "Little Girl, you really want a FIV-positive cat covered with stitches, don’t you?" I found myself nodding my head and saying "yes." I never came to my senses and asked for the Red Ryder BB gun. I named the six-year-old Meezer-mix Braveheart, after Scotland’s freedom fighter, William Wallace, who suffered the fate this kitty escaped, barely. Braveheart was eventually adopted by a wonderful empty nest couple.

And just a few days ago Dr. Epstein handed me a visually challenged kitten and said, "Isn’t her fur soft? She needs a foster home." Today she smiled sweetly and said, "Don’t you want to take a three-legged puppy who’s not housetrained?" Make it stop!

Cassie’s predecessor at Teasley Lane, Dr. Granville Wright, also gently arm-twisted for the good of homeless animals, and often didn’t charge me for fosters I cared for out of my own pocket. I was there the day a lady brought in her cat with a mangled leg. She had no money for the amputation, but promised to pay off her bill over time. Dr. Wright never received a dime, but he told me he was glad the kitty would no longer be bothered by the painful leg.

4. Saints must perform two verifiable miracles

I don’t know about you, but my vets perform miracles all the time. I bet yours do, too.

Robert Munger, eye-doc extraordinaire (Animal Ophthalmology Clinic), turned a vicious cat into a love bug simply by treating his painful eye condition. A week after I adopted him, I learned why Bogie was surrendered; he attacked humans and fellow kitties alike … at least until Dr. Munger performed his miracle. Bogie made it to 16, a happy, gentle companion.

In Houston, Cynthia Rigoni of All Cats Veterinary Clinic, knows cats. This brilliant vet seems to have a special connection with her patients, and pinpoints issues that mystify others. She freely shares her knowledge. I’m not the only one who drives across the state to take my puzzling cases to see Cindy.

So now you know a few vets I believe deserve sainthood (without the inconvenience of martyrdom.) Tell me about your saint of a vet in the comments!

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About the author: Author, adventuress, and cat rescuer Dusty Rainbolt is a feline behavior consultant and member of International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the author of Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home (a book for frustrated people dealing with feline behavior problems), and Kittens For Dummies. Dusty is the product editor for Catnip, published by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She writes the monthly feline advice columns Dear Hobbes and Ask Einstein. She also freelances for Cat Fancy and anyone else whose checks don’t bounce. She is currently the vice president of the Cat Writers Association. Her latest book, the paranormal mystery Death Under the Crescent Moon, was released a few months ago.

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