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Dog Gone Amazing; Deborah S. Patt, V.M.D. '75
Tiptoeing up to the huge German shepherd, Deborah S. Patt, V.M.D. '75, her wire-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, softly called, "Lewis, Lewis."
Lewis, who had a large, painful mass at the base of his tail, nuzzled Patt's hand as she got close. His owners, long-time clients who are out of work, have to weigh the cost of buying food for the family versus getting medical attention for their pet.
"It is heartbreaking when my clients fall on hard economic times," Patt says.
Patt, 58, has been around veterinary medicine her whole life. At nine, she started helping her father, John F. Patt, V.M.D. '47, in his practice by cleaning kennels and walking dogs. "Out of four siblings, I was the one to catch the bug. I liked science, biology and people. It was a logical fit," she recalls.
Growing up in the veterinary culture taught Patt a thing or two about running a practice and, indirectly, about rebuilding one. Her father and mother, Virginia (Black) Patt '47, founded their animal practice in 1952, working out of the family home in Morysville, Pa. In 1957, the practice moved to a renovated barn in Gilbertsville, Pa. When Patt's father retired in 1990, she became the owner and chief surgeon, and promptly started a major renovation of the facility.
Seven years later, the hospital was destroyed by fire.
"We lost everything, including my Albright degree," says Patt, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Luckily, there were no fatalities.
Today, her state-of-the-art veterinary hospital is large, bright and impeccable. Her staff of 19 includes three full-time doctors.
Accompanying Patt to work every day is Diana, a Reeve's turtle she adopted in 1990, and Barney, 11, a mixed terrier. With Diana in a bucket and Barney trotting by her side, the trio meanders from their old farmhouse, through a garden, to the hospital next door. "I have a travelling circus when I come to work," Patt chuckles. Another dog, four cats, 13 chickens, two mini goats and a pigmy Percheron horse round out her brood.
Although many patients stand out in Patt's mind, like the young setter who overcame tremendous odds after eating a rug and aluminum foil or the corgi who required drastic surgery after ingesting a pair of pantyhose, it's often the pet's owner that makes a case memorable. She recalls an elderly man with cancer who brought in his dog, Gunner, who was too ill to continue treatment. "I was upset for the owner because I knew this was Gunner's last visit. The hardest part of having a veterinary practice is the emotional rollercoaster. It's intensely sad when you can't help every animal and exhilarating when someone brings in a new puppy," she says.
As the practice nears its 60-year anniversary, Patt points out that her father's philosophy was about building long-term relationships based on trust and compassion for animals and their owners alike. "Dad isn't around anymore, but his spirit is still here and he sets the tone for us every day," she says.
Lewis' mass was benign. He's one lucky dog.
–Linda L. Mecca '08