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One Woman's Lifelong Passion for Animals

By: Stephen Sawicki

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When Bari Spielman was a little girl, she knew with absolute certainty what she'd do for a living.

Whether it was a premonition, a self-fulfilling prophecy or just the intense drive of a unique individual is open for debate. But the fact remains that just as young Spielman said she would be an animal doctor, so she is today. "I never changed my goal or my path," Spielman says. "I adore animals. The fact that I can spend time with them during my workday is a bonus."

An Advanced-care Specialist

The catch, of course, is that the pets she encounters are sick, a lot of them very much so. Spielman, a board-certified internist formerly at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, is one of the specialists that outside practitioners turn to when their animal patients have a mystery illness or otherwise require advanced care.

Spielman is also trained in use of the endoscope - which essentially allows her to voyage deep into a golden retriever's belly, for instance, and pluck out a toy soldier or remove a bit of questionable tissue for evaluation.

A Variety of Challenges

Spielman likes the mix of her work, which covers the waterfront of animal diseases. "They come in [here] in all shapes and sizes and forms," she says. "Pretty much anything goes."

"Some of my recent cases have ranged from the chronic diarrhea dogs that end up having inflammatory bowel disease to a cat that came in with a four-week history of poor appetite and ended up having gastric lymphoma - cancer of the stomach. Another cat I saw yesterday has diabetes."

The patients and illnesses flow in a never-ending stream, whether it's during an emergency consultation or an appointment booked weeks in advance. That's why Spielman schedules her share of less intense cases, too - checking a dog who's been scratching his ear a bit too much, for instance. And when the veterinarian really needs a break, she's off for Angell's healthy-animal boarding ward. "I'll take out a dog or play with a cat," she says. "It's a nice thing to be able to do and it's a good stress release for me."

A number of years ago, Spielman worked in private practice in the affluent suburbs of Long Island, N.Y. The money was nice, but the pace was painfully slow. That's why she found her way to Angell, where her days are forever jam-packed and a challenging case is just a page on her beeper away.

She has plenty of back up, too. "If an animal comes in and he's limping or he's got a problem with his eye or something, I just look one stone's throw to my left or my right and I've got colleagues and friends who can help with the part I don't know. I think that's worth a million bucks."

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