Catherine Roach, DVM: Batting 1000 in veterinary medicine

Zomedica Uncategorized

Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, you may have heard the story of the “goose chase” that occurred at a Detroit Tigers game last May when Dr. Catherine Roach switched out her baseball cap for her veterinarian one when a lone Canada goose needed help.

We caught up with Dr. Roach to learn about her relief work and the inside scoop on that goose rescue.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.
I’ve always loved rescuing animals. I have seven dogs, eight cats, two birds, and two horses. The funny thing is, I talk to so many people that say, “Oh, I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian.” I didn’t really know I wanted to be a veterinarian. It wasn’t until I was older and had worked with a veterinarian as an assistant that I realized that’s what I wanted to do. Now, I do relief work, which takes me throughout Southeast Michigan. One of those places is an emergency clinic in Clinton Township. That’s where we ended up taking the goose after the game.

What drew you to relief work?
I worked as an emergency vet after I graduated. A lot of the clinics in the area started asking if I could fill-in for their vets. So, I started doing the relief work on my weeks off and realized it wasn’t that different from emergency vet medicine. I’ve learned to really rely on support staff and value their input. The more relief work I did, the more I liked it!

You started your career in veterinary medicine later than most. What has that journey been like?
I had to work my way through school. I bartended and waited tables while I was in community college. Sometimes I was only able to take one class per semester due to costs, but I just kept plugging away at it. I got my associate’s degree in science at Wayne County Community College and then transferred to the University of Detroit Mercy where I entered the biochemistry program. I took a biochemistry lab and realized I didn’t like it. I thought “Well, that’s not going to be a very good fall back if I don’t get into vet school.” So, I talked to the veterinarian I had worked with and he suggested I look into the veterinary technician program at Michigan State. With a veterinary technician degree, I would be in the veterinary field, even if I didn’t get into vet school. And, it was a great way to get experience. After two years, I was accepted into the DVM program at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.

In your opinion, what makes a healthy and courageous veterinarian? Do you feel like one?
I do feel like a healthy vet. It’s about making a balance between work and your own life. My husband and I travel a lot. We work, work, work—then take time off and travel. I also love music and concerts, that’s a good escape for me. Many of my friends are sole practitioners, and I keep reminding them they’ve got to take time for themselves. You can’t take the whole world on. You’re going to run yourself down and you’re going to end up hating the job and your life because you don’t really have one. You have to take the time to do the things you like and learn to say no.

And, we’re all courageous because this is a hard profession. Veterinary school is hard. Practicing veterinary medicine is hard. But we, veterinary professionals, do what the job calls for. For example, not shying away from an emergency or a procedure that’s going to be difficult because you’re not sure. It takes courage to do your best and own it.

What’s next for you?
I am doing a lot of veterinary dentistry work. I find it fun. I’m a pretty laidback person, I don’t get too anxious or antsy, and so difficult extractions don’t really bother me — even root canals! It’s work that takes a lot of concentration and I like that. My husband is a dentist (for humans) and learning dentistry from the human side first has helped me understand that things go a lot smoother if I stay relaxed. Lately, I’ve been looking into continuing education information and courses on mobile euthanasia/hospice practice.

That’s interesting. Euthanasia must be a really difficult part of the job though. Why has your interest in that area of treatment grown?
It can be a really hard job, as we all know. I won’t do convenience euthanasia, I refuse. I have to live with my choices and that’s one I just won’t do. It doesn’t bother me to euthanize animals when I know it’s in their best interest and we’re keeping them from suffering. It’s difficult for veterinarians when clients can’t afford treatment, I think that’s one of the things that wears on us most. We’re trying to do our best and I don’t know any veterinarian out there who hasn’t had an animal signed over to them, treated animals for free, or done little things to try to fix something without charging full costs at times.

I’ve taken care of my own terminally ill pets because I have access to the drugs and the knowledge to treat them. I had a client whose dog was terminally ill with cancer. Chemo and other treatments weren’t working. He was a large dog and getting in the car became impossible with his condition. I thought, “It would be so nice to be able to do hospice for pets as I did with my father when he as dying.” I looked into it and realized there are veterinarians who offer that service. Home euthanasia can be much better for the animal and the owner. It can be done in a nice, peaceful spot—they’re happy, they’re home.

Tell us about some of your most memorable experiences as a veterinarian.

Every day at a vet clinic is funny. Inevitably somebody gets peed on or the fluid from anal glands goes everywhere. The people that I work with like having fun so we tease each other and joke around a lot.

When I was working as an emergency vet, a guy came in with his 16 or 17-year-old chihuahua that needed to be euthanized. The guy was a huge biker guy with a bandana and leather vest. He was big, muscley, and tough. But he loved that dog. The staff’s first impression was, “This guy’s kind of a jerk.” When I went in the room to discuss the process and everything he broke down and lost it. He told me, “I was trying to stay strong.” He ended up hugging and thanking everybody and was the sweetest, but it was a lesson. A lot of people seem like jerks when they come in for euthanasia because they’re trying to keep it together, especially men. They try to separate themselves from the emotion of it. That client actually brought us cookies later that week and sent us a thank you card. That was one of those weird, unexpected ones where he was just such a big tough-looking guy that when he actually broke down and became himself; he was very sweet.

Okay, we have to talk about the goose. Tell us what went through your mind when you saw the goose fly into the grass at Comerica Park. Did everything turn out okay with him?
It did. He recovered and got released into the wild. They couldn’t find anything wrong, anything to keep him.

When it happened my first thought was “they’re not going to know what to do with that thing. Whether it’s hurt or not, they’re not going to know how to deal with that goose.” I knew if it wasn’t hurt it was going be mean and if it was hurt they wouldn’t know where to take it or what to do. I just ran down there and grabbed him.

We immediately took him out of the park and put him in a grassy area with some bushes. I wanted to see if he was able to get off on his own, but I recommended we leave him alone so we didn’t stress him out. The Tigers posted guards around him at a distance to make sure nobody messed with him. I waited about a half hour or so, watched the comeback, and then I went back out to check on him. He hadn’t moved so I decided to take him to the clinic. I picked him up while my husband went to get the car and a Tigers’ staff member stayed to help move people along.

At the clinic, we did a physical exam, took some x-rays, and everything seemed fine. He was starting to get less dazed and a little meaner. I took him to my house, put him in a big dog kennel for a couple hours with a big pan of water and kept him overnight just to be sure. The next morning when I got up, he was feeling better because I had a hard time getting him out of the cage. I ended up with some good bruises and scratches.

I drove him up to the wildlife ward at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State. Dr. Sikarsky, the wildlife veterinarian, checked him out and didn’t think the goose seemed to be injured. I showed him the x-rays we had taken, they put him in like a holding pen and then released him the next morning.

The Tigers had you throw out the first pitch at one of their games. That must have been exciting!
That was cool. I never thought I’d be one of the people doing that. I was really worried I wouldn’t get it over the plate or near the plate, but I didn’t do too badly. It ended up just left of the plate. I was really proud! It bounced in the batter’s box and the catcher looked at me and nodded like “Hey.” And I was like “You didn’t think the fat, old lady could throw the ball that far, did ya?”