Even as a child, Dr. Debbie Breitstein knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She didn’t even waver when the family veterinarian tried to talk her out of it. Since then, she’s spent years treating furry companions of all dispositions, including one too-curious dog still covered in live bees, and another sporting some rather scandalous stomach contents. Luckily, the doctor knows how to use her unrelenting curiosity and persistence to save animals.
We caught up with Dr. Breitstein to learn about her experiences during a busy day at the hospital.
Tell us a little bit about you, about your practice.
I graduated from Purdue in 1985 and have been practicing for over 33 years.
My husband, Dr. Tepper, and I started Animal Health Care of Marlboro on April 13, 1992, after we had worked in a variety of practices. Within a year, we became AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited and we’ve maintained that accreditation, getting our 25-year award this year.
We’re a general practice hospital treating patients with fur. Scales and feathers are best left to others! We currently have three full-time doctors and we’re open seven days a week, trying to be the go-to, one-stop shop veterinary resource in our community. We’re mostly surgery, dentistry, boarding, and grooming. We also offer physical therapy and behavior consultations. We’re fear free professionals and are working on our fear free practice certification! Our motto is: As long as we get those purrs, tail wags and licks, we know what makes your pets tick!
When did you first know you wanted to be a veterinarian and what triggered your interest?
The urban legend is – because I don’t remember this – that my father took me to our family veterinarian, Dr. Platt, with our cat. My father told him, “My daughter wants to be a vet.” Dr. Platt in his long white coat, cardigan shoes, tab collar, slicked back hair, said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Breitstein. Leave her here with me for a few hours. I’m sure we can convince her otherwise.”
So, my father did as he was told – left me. Whatever it was Dr. Platt saw in me, when my father came to pick me up he said, “I think you might want to start saving for a college education.” I was the first one to go to college in my family.
Fast forward a few years later, I was working at that same veterinary hospital, and my first day on the job I was supposed to let the dogs out from their sleeping spaces to get some fresh air. There were two dogs that were running free in the penned yard. They were following me, I was petting them and doing my thing, then I look up to see my employer and two of the other workers, panic-stricken, looking out the window and motioning me to come in. I did, thinking, “Oh great, what did I do wrong on my first day?”
They literally plucked me inside and repeatedly asked if I was okay. I said, “What are you talking about?” They said, “Well, you know that Dalmatian out there?”, “Well, her name is Bananas and she was almost put to sleep several times because she’s bitten the crap out of people that get into her territory.” I was like, “Well, she’s fine with me!” I was fine—and here we are many years later. I survived Bananas!
What’s one piece of wisdom you would give to yourself or other future veterinarians just starting out?
If you’re as lucky as I’ve been all these years to continue doing what you love and love what you do, then you’re golden. If you’re not happy find something that makes you happy.
Do you have any memorable patient stories you’d care to share?
There was a middle-aged Labrador that came in for inappetence. He had missed like three meals. When a Labrador misses a meal you’re like, “What is going on here?”
I was doing my exam and I got to palpating this dog’s abdomen, and he wanted to take my head off. It was really painful for him. I asked the owners to let me get at least one image of this dog’s belly to find out what’s causing him so much pain. For a dog that hadn’t eaten for three days, the stomach was still filled with something.
I told the owner that there’s something still in the dog’s stomach so we were going to try and induce vomiting to see what it is. Out came a pair of black, lacy underwear. I marched into the room, all proud of myself that I’ve helped this dog, and I say, “This is what we found. I guess you’re missing these”, and she said, “Those aren’t mine.”
That was pretty memorable!
Any crazy emergencies you’ve ever experienced?
Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty. I don’t get to do as much emergency work anymore, but a dog that goes into a bee hive and presents with bees still stinging – that’s a little challenging. I’m thinking, okay, how do we do this without getting stung? In those days, we had a lot of flea sprays, so we reached for the flea sprays and just sprayed. It was a little challenging, but we did it! And, the dog survived.
Do you feel like a healthy veterinarian and what you do you think makes a healthy veterinarian?
You can’t be a healthy veterinarian in an unhealthy culture. In our practice, my husband and I work to make this a healthy culture that allows all of our employees to be healthy, not just our veterinarians.
Profitability is always a struggle. That’s one of the reasons that we sold our practice. We got to the point that we were being distracted by things that we didn’t really go to school for. Profit is always in the back of my mind. I figured if we practiced well, patients would come, and people would to the best of their ability be able to afford the care that made sense for their pets and for them. I believe that people will always find a way to afford what they want, we, as veterinarians, just have to be what they want.
But, I’m happy to walk in the door every day. The day that I’m not is the day I won’t continue to do this. My retirement strategy is death. God willing, that will be many years from now, but I have to be realistic. I am very fortunate to do what I love and love what I do. I’m thankful for all of the families that trust us as the other family doctor when they put their fur babies’ paws in our care team’s hands. And, our team is amazing. We couldn’t do it without them —and wouldn’t want to!