It has been a weekend of sadness in the LAB Louisiana Boy household up here in Maryland. Saturday morning, the time came to put our 17-year-old cat to sleep. Our second oldest, she battled a number of urinary tract issues in recent years with stones, infections, and the onset of renal failure with one kidney practically disappearing. We never went the route of administering IV fluids at home because given her personality the stress would have exceeded any additional comfort from the additional fluid. Her last appointment had been about 3 months prior and the decision made was to observe quality of life.
Saturday, the conclusion presented itself with crystal clarity when she began experiencing a urinary blockage and leaving small droplets of blood. This time the humane treatment was not testing for a bacterial infection and antibiotics or any medicinal attempt to dissolve any crystalline particles so that they could be passed naturally. It was time to say goodbye.
Our veterinary clinic, A Cat Clinic, has shortened hours on Saturday, but with only a quick phone call the staff stayed beyond their scheduled closing. A short time later our cat, named Paka who Jen rescued years before I knew either went to sleep in Jen’s arms at the veterinary office. It was not unexpected but still the tears flowed that rainy afternoon as the passing came peacefully.
In my observations I often reference John Donne and Meditation XVII which took upon an enhanced meaning to me years ago when my Mom passed away while I was an undergraduate junior but also still a teenager. For me, despite any thoughts of solitude or isolation, we are not separated from others. Thus the declaration of “therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee,” has a special personal meaning for me.
When my Grandpa passed while I was in graduate school, words from Emily Dickinson in a freshman level composition course taught by the late Professor John Coumes (RIP) embossed upon my essence:
“Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly -.”
Like the tolling bells described by Donne, I experienced that “Stillness in the Room” walking into Grandpa’s bedroom to discover the lifeless body once the soul had passed. I realized the simple line of definiteness coexists with a simple and yet complex ambiguity between our world and the hereafter.
The known and the unknown merged.
Some people opine that it should be different with an animal than a human being. I respectfully disagree. Life is precious. Life is giving, enabling. It can be contemplated in terms of quantity, but the indelible mark is a result of quality. What I’ve discovered is that how one passes matters least while the manner in which one lived matters the most.
The sage elder, teacher, and blogger Walkingfox at Sachemspeaks typed these words to me about a year ago:
“What we have a habit of calling our pets have a brain, heart and soul, they all speak to us, understand us and each other and never kill unless necessary however, we seldom take the time to listen, they also all understand this and this is why in reality, we are their pets?”
Mr. Walkingfox (who I only feel comfortable addressing with the respectful identifier of “Mr.” since he is of the same generation of my Dad even though he has advised me that the formality is unnecessary) may have offered his words in the context of pets, but did he not describe the very being of a true friend? A true friend who is that individual who often sees more about you than you could possibly see.
Whether in the span of a blink of an eye or an eon, others leave an indelible mark upon us and do we not have the obligation to ourselves to leave our positive ineradicable marks with others?
A Cat Clinic: Feline Only Animal Hospital in Montgomery County
A number of times I began writing a review of A Cat Clinic but for a variety of reasons at the time, some unknown today, I never completed the task.
A Cat Clinic is a feline-only animal hospital in Boyds, MD, which is a part of Montgomery County. It has served northern Montgomery County since 1986 when Dr. Dale Rubenstein opened the doors of the first veterinary clinic / hospital for cats in this area. Dr. Rubenstein has an impressive academic CV with an undergraduate degree from Oberlin College and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in addition to her DVM which she earned a Purdue. She’s certified in feline practice and is a member of various professional associations. She’s also active in the local community speaking to local groups and at local schools.
I have only been present twice when Dr. Rubenstein has conducted an examination of one of our cats. She’s professional in her approach, and from her vast experience there is little unnecessary effort either in the physical aspects of the exam or while she meticulously typed her preliminary notes. It’s obvious that she is informed and experienced even by a casual observation.
While I have no doubt about her abilities, my critique of Dr. Rubenstein is based less upon her veterinary skills and more upon her administrative role at the clinic. From my own experiences a staff is a reflection of leadership, and everyone I have encountered at the clinic is personable and dedicated to both patients and their humans. For that I credit not only the individual staff members but Dr. Rubenstein.
Our cats have been examined primarily by the other practitioner, Dr. Melissa Mustillo. Dr. Mustillo is approximately the same age as Jen and I, so we have a less formal in office experience even though a high professional quality of service is maintained. Dr. Mustillo has her own impressive academic credentials from Canisius College before going to Knoxville where she earned her DVM at the University of Tennessee. She completed an internship in medicine and surgery from Veterinary Referral Associates who operates an emergency veterinary hospital towards Gaithersburg.
I have the utmost confidence in Dr. Mustillo with both her academic knowledge and medical skills. Like her colleague Dr. Rubenstein, Dr. Mustillo maintains the professional memberships in her field and is also involved in the community She delivers a number of public lectures about different aspects of feline health throughout the area. As someone who has given his fair share of presentations and attended numerous talks by others covering a diversity of topics, I’ll assert that Dr. Mustillo is quite impressive in that atmosphere.
Personally, I love Dr. Mustillo’s professional demeanor whether it is at a formal presentation, during the course of an examination, or when answering direct questions about the patient. She affectionately refers to her patients as “kiddo” multiple times along with calling the cats by name. In some respects she reminds me of a pediatrician as she shows the patient the various instruments, explains what she is going to do, and calmly proceeds while voicing words of comfort and encouragement. She successfully lessens stress levels for everyone present.
With the “cat parents” Dr. Mustillo is forthright yet sympathetic. I do not think any medical practitioner could fake such a sincere and caring deportment.
A Cat Clinic is a friendly and calm environment for both patients and their humans. Unlike some veterinary clinics I have patronized, neither the physicians nor staff attempt to “up sell” services or treatments by shaming the clients or taking advantage of emotional feelings. Recommendations are made and options presented freely. Neither DVM has exhibited what I term an ego issue where they contend that their diagnosis or opinion is the only correct one possible. Sadly I’ve experienced this type of omnipotent personality among a number of individuals in the medical profession. I can say the same about my field with professors, and honestly no profession is immune to those beliefs. Still that attribute influences significantly my personal critique of another.
As written my medical interactions have been with Dr. Mustillo primarily, but I also credit Dr. Rubenstein for the overall demeanor of the staff. The staff has changed considerably in the 7 or so years we have been bringing our cats to A Cat Clinic. The turnover, however, is not a result of working conditions but more often a result of one of the assistants returning to school or graduating and transferring to a graduate or professional program.
With the intensified emotions of Saturday’s visit in addition to Dr. Mustillo, I do want to acknowledge the work of two staff members who are not strangers from the number of times we have seen and communicated with them during previous visits.
First is Charlotte, a young lady who often assists with getting medications and foods requiring an Rx. On a few occasions she has been the assistant during an examination, and I believe also performs some tech duties in the labs. She also fulfills the role of receptionist, coordinator, or as I refer to the position: use your knowledge, skills, and the power of communication to solve whatever you can out front.
Saturday Charlotte answered the phone and immediately checked with Dr. Mustillo to see if we could go immediately to their office given how close it was to the scheduled closing time. She displayed the utmost in efficiency, professionalism, and compassion in that quick phone call. Upon entering the clinic, she immediately took Jen and Paka to the designated private area and did so in a manner that did not neglect the two patrons with whom she had been assisting at the time. Throughout Charlotte displayed both genuine sympathy and concern while remaining professional.
Second is a young lady named Samantha or Sam as she is known in the clinic. Sam is a local girl who recently graduated from the University of Maryland. I recall when she first started working at the clinic. She was precise and friendly with Jen and me as she took vitals. Still, you could sense a touch of nerves as I could tell how she was thinking through everything that she did and asked. There was nothing wrong with her actions that day. They were just reminiscent of observing countless students giving their first oral presentation in front of a class or watching them react to their first office meeting to discuss a book review, research draft, or essay from an exam.
The next appointment Sam used Dr. Mustillo’s expression of “kiddo,” and her movements and words had such a fluidity as she had progressed to adapting her knowledge and training to her own personality. It’s a highly impressive combination of skills that this young lady possesses.
I like to look at Sam as I often do with my former students, but of course she was never in any of my courses. I did, however, offer some unsolicited advice about her GRE preparations and applications for graduate and veterinary schools. Did she need my assistance? Of course not, but she did not dismiss me and perhaps my advice of tailoring her personal statement to address not only why the school would be good for her but also why she would be a positive representative of the school was helpful (although certainly repetitive from her mentors) as she will be moving to pursue her DVM this coming fall.
Saturday Sam came from the lab area to extend her sympathies and to ask if I needed anything before proceeding with the required paperwork. Her sincerity, her empathy cannot be quantified. She is a multi-talented young lady who has a great future ahead as she first pursues and ultimately earns her DVM. She will be a blessing to both her future patients and their parents. I consider Sam a blessing to our cats and to Jen and me, and Sam embodies the atmosphere at A Cat Clinic.
I highly recommend A Cat Clinic for those in this area. The overwhelming majority of reviews posted on online forums are positive. A few reviews cite issues with costs, but I do not see a significant disparity between costs for services rendered at A Cat Clinic and the other veterinary practices in this area. Regardless of if it is a human, feline, canine, or other living creature, increasing medical costs are a fact of our time.
They are proactive in communicating with compound pharmacies to discover lower overall costs for any Rx medications they prescribe.
One recommendation I have would be offering some form of multi-cat discounts. Perhaps they already do with established versus new patients similar what one experiences typically with medical practices for humans. It’s not a complaint against A Cat Clinic, but I would like to see more businesses offer such tokens of appreciation to existing patrons as opposed to perks for new patrons only. I have no knowledge as to whether or not A Cat Clinic does either, and my opinion is only a general one which applies to all entities which provide goods or services.
I will note that A Cat Clinic does have the equipment along with the necessary training to perform some lab work at the location which alleviates some costs along with the added benefit of reducing the time-frame to obtain results. On every occasion, Dr. Mustillo has clearly stated the reasoning for any tests and has been forthright about the costs. She also discusses options and alternatives and is confident enough to make referrals for situations beyond her areas of expertise and to encourage second opinions.
Like I wrote, this is not an omnipotent practice. While both DVMs along with staff appear to be miracle workers at times, the sad reality for all medical practices is that miracles may not be possible or meant to be.
I highly recommend A Cat Clinic and its staff.
Again, I would also like to extend a special thanks to Melissa Mustillo, Charlotte, and Sam. I wish that I had the appropriate words to convey my respect and appreciation for your professionalism, dedication, sincerity, and genuine kindness not only Saturday in a time of sadness but during the mundane as well.
RIP Paka who I like to think is cuddled up next to her younger sister Scherzo (RIP) for eternity.