My Mentor

Many, many years ago when my first Terv, Hogan, was a puppy I was living in Rhode Island and I went to see a veterinarian several hours away in Monson, Massachusetts about a misdiagnosed thyroid issue that ultimately Hogan did not have (sound familiar?). I went the distance because at the time I had exhausted my supply of local veterinarians who, for one reason or another, just didn't work out, one of whom was the idiot who had misdiagnosed Hogan and had almost killed him with Soloxine, a thyroid hormone replacement.

The Monson Small Animal Clinic many years ago.

I forget who had recommended this vet in Monson, Massachusetts, but when I arrived I remember the impression she made on me: She was extremely bright, knowledgeable, kind, compassionate, full of energy, animated, and I got a sense of someone whose spine was made of steel. Her name was Dorsie Kovacs, and in the years that followed I got to know her well, and found that all of my initial impressions of her had been correct. At the time, however, I had no idea that she was going to completely change the course of my life and even the way I thought about things. She was outspoken, radical, but also very positive about everything all the time. She was the final push I had needed to start the long process of becoming a veterinarian; at the time, I was focused on and majoring in marine biology.

Dorsie Kovacs DVM, 1997

When she discovered that I was wavering between marine bio and medicine she invited me to spend a few days at her clinic observing the goings on so that I could more accurately judge whether or not veterinary medicine was the career for me or not. Those several days of observing somehow turned into over two years of working as a technician.

The clinic in 1998.

I was enthralled with Dorsie's ability to diagnose everything in every species of animal. She treated dogs, deer, cats, ferrets, rabbits, pocket pets, reptiles, birds, deer, raccoons, and more. If it had a pulse and wasn't human, she could deal with it. I remember one time she gave CPR to a ferret, who lived and thanked her by sinking its teeth into her little finger. As everyone was basking in and marvelling at her success, she went to the sink and calmly held her finger in cold running water as she read through the records for her next appointment.

As time went on she taught me the value of not feeding dog food, which was at the time, a radical and heavily criticized practice. She taught me radiology, skeletal and soft tissue anatomy, diseases, tests, endocrinology, and a list of skills which are too long to list and too invaluable to accurately describe. Dorsie taught me basic surgery, suturing, sterile technique, lavage, decoupage, auscultation, EKG interpretation, ultrasound, and all the skills she could. Her technicians taught me how to draw blood, restrain gently, place IV catheters, intubate, medicate, bandage, not get my face bitten off, and so on. They were in every way as skilled, passionate, and adept as Dorsie.

Dorsie and her technician, Kathleen, prepping for surgery. 1998.

At the end of those two years when I left the clinic to move on, I was so prepared that once I was in vet school everything was familiar, much to some instructors' dismay. Looking back, I realized that she had deliberately crammed my head so completely full of information that I had basically received an entire education from her.

Dorsie teaching me how to suture. Monson Small Animal Clinic, 1998

This is what Dorsie was like; she gave and gave and gave. She gave gifts to people like the one she had given to me which were on such a massive scale that their size could only be appreciated in retrospection.

The end of a long day: The treatment room in the Monson Small Animal Clinic, 1999.

As a veterinarian, she became so popular and in such high demand that at one point appointments were being booked six weeks out, and more than one competing clinic in the area went out of business. She influenced the entire town of Monson and touched almost every animal owner's life in one way or another. She encouraged vaccination and holistic care, and for a generation the animals of Monson thrived like they never had before. She impacted countless human and animal lives in a massive way with utter gentleness and a dedication and passion that is rare in any profession.

Dorsie Kovacs DVM as photographer. Monson, MA 1997

She was devoted to fact, truth, and had a genuine love for animals and people that is rarely matched or equalled. One of her hobbies was photography; when she wasn't influencing lives she was celebrating them with photographs.

I looked her up last week; I was referring a friend who lived nearby and found out that Dorsie died two years ago from cancer. I was shocked. I felt a sense of profound shame for not knowing until now; I felt a sense of profound shame for never having gotten in touch after graduating to thank her for what she'd done for me and for how she had done it.

I never thanked her for permanently changing the way I think about medicine and for being able to think outside the box. She taught me how to think and this is one of the main reasons that I have repeatedly been able to solve medical problems that others could not. It's because of Dorsie.

I did, however, read some of the comments that people had left at her funeral:

In just one comment still visible online I see the words "lovingly", and "taught" and "positive". This was who Dorsie Kovacs was.

Today the clinic is still there. It's now run by two veterinarians, but the web page makes no mention of the staff or much of anything else, for that matter. Dorsie would have put this information before hers, because to her, the staff were practically family.

Nothing stays the same.

The Monson Small Animal Clinic in 1998 (top) and today (bottom).

I wish I'd said thank you. Maybe I'll still get the chance.