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Meet Dr. Patti: American Humane Hero Veterinarian
From working at her local animal shelter to starting her own low-cost wellness clinic to creating a nonprofit pet food pantry, this veterinarian has made a tremendous impact on her community.
As the only veterinarian at Pueblo Animal Services, Patricia Canchola, DVM, from Pueblo, Colorado, cares for about 5000 animals per year, but her first shelter dog holds a special place in her heart. He was a small, wispy, wheat-colored hairy terrier with what she called the “best natural mohawk.”
He came into the shelter on 3 legs matted so severely that she wasn’t sure which end of the poor terrier was which. “After his medical groom, his fourth leg was discovered twisted and tangled in the mats,” Dr. Patti said. “It was obvious that the leg was causing him signi cant discomfort, so we proceeded with an amputation.”
She formed a special bond with the tiny terrier, and she was back the next day signing the adoption papers for newly named Marty. Little did she know that her new dog—and his new name—would serve as the impetus for many interesting things to come.
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To honor her selfless efforts on behalf of the canine, feline, and human members of her community, Dr. Patti has been named the 2017 American Hero Veterinarian by American Humane. Sponsored by Zoetis, the award was born of the idea that “behind every hero pet is a hero veterinarian.”
Dr. Patti had no intention of making her career in shelter medicine. She worked with her mentors at Best Friends Animal Hospital in Pueblo West, Colorado in 2000 before eventually purchasing the practice in 2002, and deciding to build a new hospital in 2008.
“I remember signing what seemed like a huge stack of closing papers and being thrilled to start a new journey,” she said. “The very next day when I received a phone call that the bank I signed with was closed by the FDIC, I felt my stomach drop.”
Dr. Patti was yet another victim of the Great Recession. After being given new loan terms with an impossible payment schedule, she was forced to close her new hospital in 2009. That’s when she learned of an open position at Pueblo Animal Services.
“Having helped this shelter on numerous occasions, I approached the director and requested an interview,” she said. “And as they say, the rest is history.”
Shelter medicine was a grueling adjustment—she performs 3500 to 4500 spay and neuter surgeries each year—and Dr. Patti wasn’t sure she could keep pace. “We have gured that through our surgery center year to date I’ve spayed/neutered close to 29,000 animals,” she said. She persevered, though, much to the delight of the animals in her care.
St. Martin's Well Pet Clinic
On top of her full-time job at the shelter, Dr. Patti knew she wanted to help even more of the pets and people in her community. “When I took notice of all the reasons why animals were surrendered, there was a common denominator—the owners couldn’t afford veterinary care,” she said. “And I thought, OK, we can help them.”
She decided to open St. Martin’s Well Pet Clinic, named after her beloved terrier Marty, to offer the community a place to go for low-cost pet health care. The clinic is open just 2 Saturdays a month, but it offers affordable vaccines, preventive health care, and treatment for common illnesses and minor injuries. “There are so many medical cases that spiral out of control without treatment, and I was hoping to prevent that from happening," Dr. Patti said.
Amazin’ Amos Pet Pantry
As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Patti knew there was another need in her community and that she was in the position to help. Many of her clients at the clinic were also asking for help with pet food. “I scrambled quickly and with the help of a friend applied for 501c3 nonprofit status,” she said. “We had the Amazin’ Amos Pet Pantry up and running in no time.”
Named after her dog Amos, who was rescued from the streets in Pueblo, the pet pantry relies primarily on monetary donations from community members to distribute about 2000 pounds of pet food every 3 months.
“We have very high poverty levels here in Pueblo, and I still see malnutrition and unintentional starvation cases,” Dr. Patti said. “So, there is still a need.”
Never Giving Up
Prior to being nominated for the American Humane Hero Veterinarian award, Dr. Patti was seriously considering closing the clinic and pantry. “It’s terrible to say, but the workload during the week and the longer and longer hours on Saturdays were starting to wear me down,” she said.
But the recognition and honor of being nominated gave her the boost she needed to keep providing much-needed services for her community. When she finally realized that what she was doing wasn’t going unnoticed, the moment was hard for her describe in words. “What one word describes humility, elation, pride, motivation, and honor?” she asked. “I’ve yet to figure it out, but wow, what a feeling!"