Most people feel lucky if they get to work at one job they love. I’m even more fortunate because I get to spend my days (and often nights and weekends) doing two things I love: caring for animals in my veterinary practice, House Call Vet NYC, and jamming with my fellow animal lovers in my band, Pet-Rox.
My interest in animals came first. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, with Mushroom, my pet Dachshund, as one of my favorite companions. We’d explore the urban jungle of our backyard looking for interesting insects and other living creatures. But like many Dachshunds, Mushroom developed back problems. It upset me to see my best friend in pain and not be able to do anything about it. Mushroom passed away at the age of 10, and her last years were not as carefree as they could have been.
That’s what eventually led me to enroll in the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). What an experience it was for this young man from New York City to land in this heavily agricultural area of the deep South. But I have the fondest of memories of my time at CVM. It’s there that I deepened my knowledge of veterinary science, both in the care of individual animals and the role a veterinarian can play in animal health and agricultural public policy issues. I even represented my veterinary college in delta catfish farms and the American Veterinary Medical Association on Capitol Hill, and advised governors, senators, and other public officials on animal health issues.
And speaking of “play,” I found time for that, too! I was living in Mississippi, the state many say is the birthplace of the blues. I became fascinated with the unique rhythms and passionate spirit of the blues, the musical inspiration of so much modern music, including jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and even hip-hop. After a while it wasn’t enough to just listen to the blues, so I decided to pick up my guitar and play along.
Ultimately, I graduated from vet school with honors, and also earned the Pegasus Award, which recognizes the outstanding graduate who combines academic accomplishment and community service. When I left, the college made me an adjunct member to ensure that my relationship with the great state of Mississippi continued.
As much as I loved Mississippi, when it came time to start my own practice, I headed home to New York City. Before long, I realized three things: 1) I wanted to focus on companion animals, like my dear childhood pet, Mushroom; 2) I wanted to expand the techniques I used to treat animals to include holistic, as well as traditional medicine; and 3) I wanted to find a way to keep music in my life!
In tandem with my first goal, treating companion animals, I decided my practice would focus only on house calls. A traditional trip to the veterinarian’s office can prove traumatic for some pets, especially older or frail animals, and many patients respond better to treatment in the comfort of their home.
In New York, many people don’t own cars. Travel in the congested and noisy city can be uncomfortable or frightening for many pets. A home visit also spares animals (as well as owners) a long and exasperating waiting-room experience. Owners with busy schedules also appreciate having me come to their homes at their convenience, sometimes late at night.
So in 1997, House Calls for Your Pet was born. It’s now called House Call Vet NYC, because as much as I’d like to, I can’t come down and treat your terrier in Texas, your Afghan in Alabama, or your Lab in Louisiana! I do share some of my pet care tips with animal lovers everywhere on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
With my house call service established, I moved on to my second goal: providing a mix of traditional and nontraditional treatments. Like many aspects of my veterinary life, my interest in holistic medicine, particularly acupuncture, traces back to my first dog Mushroom. I learned that the type of back pain she suffered from can often be relieved by acupuncture. I became certified in veterinary acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) and pursued training in canine rehabilitation. And these have become some of my most sought-after services.
Acupuncture is one of the most rewarding for me. I can’t tell you what it means to me to see the changes that happen after acupuncture, especially in older dogs. I’ve given acupuncture to dogs who could barely move due to pain and after a few treatments, they’re renewed and rejuvenated, often pulling out toys they haven’t played with in years. And yes, I’ve been fortunate to help ease the pain of many “frankfurter dogs” like Mushroom.
My third goal — finding a way to keep music in my life — has been successful beyond my wildest imagination. I started by asking a few musical friends in the animal welfare community to jam with me. Because my friends and I all loved animals, it was natural for me to write songs with a pet-centric theme. The word got out and we were contacted by various animal welfare organizations to play at their fundraising events. Of course we needed a name for the band, so I came up with “Pet-Rox,” which I think is very fitting on many levels!
Since then, Pet-Rox has become the go-to entertainment choice for animal-focused events in the New York metro area, including 13 consecutive appearances at the American Cancer Society’s “Bark for Life” celebration, the ASPCA’s 140th Anniversary celebration, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo, and many Blessing of the Animals ceremonies.
Besides entertaining at ordinary dog parks, we’ve even played on the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier. Along with my backup singers, the Roxettes, we’re often joined by other musical guests from the animal welfare community. We’ve rocked out with veterinarians, veterinary nurses, dog walkers and trainers, animal hospital administrators, a sea lion trainer, and even a pet psychic and tarot card reader, just to name a few. We’ve also appeared on stage with television star Mary Tyler Moore, Broadway and film actress Bernadette Peters, folk legend Pete Seeger, and Wendy Diamond, founder of Animal Fair.
Everything has worked out better than I could have imagined — a rewarding veterinary house call practice, a fun side gig that nurtures my love of music, and a happy home life with wife and two adopted rescue cats, Asti Spumanti and Nebbiolina. My life rocks!
Read more on working with dogs: