After practicing for nearly 48 years, Dr. Gail S. Wolfe still encounters cases she’s never seen at Bennett Road Animal Clinic, in Okemos, Michigan. It’s that variety and getting to know her clients that keeps her passionate about veterinary medicine and the root of her decision not to specialize.
Practicing out of her home, Dr. Wolfe never truly leaves work but, just as she does for her patients, she makes sure she takes care of herself to successfully run a healthy practice. But, when she isn’t in the clinic, she spends time with her husband of 51 years, their four children, and ten grandchildren! And, who could forget her furry friends Sabrina, a pug, and Ted, the cat.
Voice of the Vet™ caught up with Dr. Wolfe just as her clinic was closing for the evening.
Your practice is pretty unique, can you share a little on how you got started?
The job I lined up after graduation from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State fell through. I graduated first in my class but had no job, so I started doing relief work. My husband got the idea for me to start practicing in our home. We were renting a house at the time and, because the landlord of the house was a veterinarian, he didn’t care. So, we put an exam table in the dining room along with the table that we ate from and I put a surgery table in the unfinished basement. That’s how I practiced for five and a half years until we found the home that houses Bennett Road Animal Clinic!
This home is a ranch house; we put a separate entrance in, got an X-ray machine, and turned the walk-out basement into a clinic. That’s how Bennett Road Animal Clinic came to be.
When did you first know you wanted to be a veterinarian?
When I was nine years old there was a TV show called “Noah’s Ark” about a veterinarian who saw all kinds of animals. I said, “I wanna do that!” And I did.
I picked up animals on my way home from school in elementary school and put them in my yard. My parents were not animal lovers like I am, so they wouldn’t let them in the house. I don’t know if I was stealing people’s pets or not. But at the time, I thought I was saving strays!
Tell me about some of the most memorable patients you’ve seen in your practice.
There are quite a few. I had a little gecko come in for an abscess in his neck. As I was cleaning out the abscess I noticed his eyes were squinted totally shut. I asked the owners how long he couldn’t see, and they said, “Oh, a long time.” So, I got a couple cotton balls soaked in warm water and I started wiping away layer after layer of skin that hadn’t shed over his eyes. Eventually, all of the skin came off and he started blinking his eyes, looking all around the room. It was so adorable. He was very happy he could see again. He just hadn’t shed all that skin. The next day I called the owners to ask how he was doing, and they said he was doing great and he was very happy.
Another time, a woman called saying her iguana had suddenly become aggressive. It was a nice lizard for a long time, and then all of a sudden he became aggressive. I said, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” She said no, so I asked, “Do you have your period?” She replied, “Well not only do I have my period, but I have two daughters and they have theirs too.” After hearing this, I explained that male iguanas sense human female hormones and it makes them temperamental to say the least! So, I told her she has a choice of either neutering him or keeping her distance during that monthly time. She opted to stay away because neutering an iguana is expensive; it’s a big job.
Recently, I had a dog who had gotten into his owner’s medical marijuana, he was pretty much out of it. He couldn’t pick up his head, he was totally comatose. We gave him supportive treatment until he started to come around. It only took him eight hours. He still was a little bit high when he went home, but not too bad. He survived.
My husband thinks it’s funny that I had to give an enema to a boa constrictor because his mouse got stuck. It was funny, but it worked.
A couple of months ago, I had to perform an acute gastric dilatation surgery on a 12-year-old, big dog that the patient’s regular veterinarian didn’t want to perform. They were concerned that he could die on the table and his chances were practically none. The veterinarian recommended the owners take him to Michigan State, but when they found out how much it would cost they couldn’t afford to. They called around, and I said, “I’ll do it.” I had an extern with me at the time, also from Michigan State, so he helped me. We got the stomach reversed. It wasn’t easy, but we untwisted it and gave him lots of fluids. He was in such bad shock, I think it took me nine catheters to get a vein. But he survived and he’s still alive.
What’s the secret to your success for being in practice for so long?
Persistence and hard work. When I’m not practicing I’m up all night answering emails, I get about 300 a day. We have set hours at the clinic, but I see emergencies any time. I’ll see my own patients and other veterinarian’s patients quite a bit at night. I’m up anyway, so I might as well. I only get a few hours of sleep through the week and then catch up on weekends. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and not spending too many hours at the clinic. I think a lot of people get burnt out. They start at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. in the morning and work until 10 p.m.—that’s crazy. You shouldn’t have to work that many hours.
I don’t sleep a lot, but if you enjoy what you’re doing and have the right attitude, you should be a healthy veterinarian. Being knowledgeable about medicine, I also go to the doctor myself when I need to and get proper preventative help. I want my clients to get all the preventative things for their pets, so I also want to do that for myself and my family.
What’s one piece of advice or wisdom you would pass on to future veterinarians?
Get as much experience as possible with different veterinarians in the beginning. My first year, when I was doing relief work, I counted ten different ways to treat an abscess. Everybody does things differently. In school, they tell you “this is the way to do it,” but then you get out in the real world and you find out there are several ways to perform a treatment. By getting experience with different veterinarians, you get to pick the method that best fits with the way you practice. You’re constantly learning as a veterinarian! Education is never-ending!
A HEALTHY VET IS JOYFUL, PROFITABLE, EFFECTIVE, AND COURAGEOUS
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