Talk to Dr. Jean Duddy about her favorite patients and the veterinarian invariably comes around to the "aged."
Many of Jean Duddy's colleagues are less excited about older animals than she is because their ailments tend to be persistent, long-standing and require a lot of time and fortitude on the part of the doctor and owner. But that's much of what draws Duddy to them.
"They're great," she says of her geriatric cats. "They've been around a long time. They've bonded with their owners in a way that younger pets haven't yet. They've been through thick and thin together. It's great to see that kind of link between them.
"I've known a lot of my owners for a long time because I've been dealing with those patients forever. Admittedly, a lot of what I do toward the end is almost hospice-care but that's the debt you incur by getting to know them. It's a comfort to people when you've known a pet their whole life and you're able to help at the end."
Dr. Duddy's Commitment
"Plus, it's a hoot for me when a cat I've been seeing for 10 years reaches his 20th birthday and I know I've helped him along to that ripe old age."
It's Duddy's relationships, first with her patients, then with their owners, that rev her engine every morning and keep her working into the early - and sometimes late - evening hours.
Duddy knows, for example, that an old cat should be approached with a certain courtesy and respect - thus her knack for winning them over. "It's like with people," she says. "You don't just run up to an 80-year-old guy, grab him and throw him on the table and hope he doesn't mind. You have to take your time a little bit. You have to kind of feel them out."
When Duddy looks at her upcoming appointments and sees that a particular cat is scheduled for the next day, she actually looks forward to it, as if an old friend will be dropping by. "I've got one of those coming in tomorrow," she says. "His name is Shadow. He's been through cancer. He's not cured. He's actually probably more in the terminal stages at this point. But he's a great cat. I love him. He's a cool dude.
"Of course, there are also a few names that kind of make me grimace when I see them because I know they're going to put up a fight!"
Sometimes people ask Duddy why she keeps doing what she does. The hours can be ridiculous, not to mention the less obvious stresses and strains - from difficult owners to heartache at losing beloved patients. It's certainly not that she can't do anything else. It's just that she's found her calling. "There's nothing I want to do more than this," she says.