By Brett Stephens
Lynn Duffy, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, graduated from the University of Florida in 1981 and began her journey caring for animals. On this quiet day in her office at the Island Animal Hospital, Dr. Duffy shares her ethics, values and love of animals.
What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
“When I went to school, I thought everyone in the class wanted to be a vet. Turns out I was one of the few,” she recalls. Her life growing up in Puerto Rico exposed her to some rather dismal conditions for animals and she wanted to make a difference. Dr. Duffy was very conscientious about not making any disparaging remarks about the country she grew up in, but determined, she says, to make humane animal treatment central to her practice’s mission statement:
“We strive to honor the human-animal bond and practice conscientiously, with dignity, compassion and integrity. Accept as a lifelong obligation the continued improvement of our professional knowledge and competence.”
Her practice started in 1981 in Orlando, before moving on to Englewood. Here in Venice, her practice has enjoyed a nice, quiet office location at the eastern-most end of Tampa Avenue for the last 11 years.
So what kind of pets does a lover and caregiver of animals have?
The answer is horses, cats, dogs and a bird. “I like them all,” she adds, refusing to voice a preference for any species of animal. But after further discussion, the most conspicuous fact is they all have two things in common: They’re all rescues, and they’re all under the capable care of Dr. Duffy.
“The horses are yard ornaments. These were horses that were once used to harvest estrogen and when that went out of favor, suddenly 10,000 horses were on the market. I applied for and received two,” she says. The two portraits in her office reveal stunningly majestic creatures that no doubt have the time of their lives in retirement. Sadly, one has since passed away.
Typically, you see 99.9 percent dogs and cats going through a veterinarian’s office. What types of animals do you see and treat?
“Well, it’s 99.9 percent dogs and cats for us too,” she quickly confirms. “I started out doing horses, but the dogs and cats part of the practice grew faster.” Her mantra, with respect to the human-animal bond, is to offer and tailor the level of care to the means and wishes of pet owners.
“I have referred lots of patients to the specialist centers up in Tampa and Sarasota where they have higher training and it gets rather expensive. There are more and more people willing to do that because the human-animal bond is really strong,” she says.
She goes on to distinguish between large animal veterinarians who care for horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and farm livestock, versus the care she brings to household pets. The latter is clearly the draw for Dr. Duffy, as there are the emotional ties that add to the relationship.
We took interest in your practice based on comments from readers who said you and your staff go above and beyond in service, treating everyone’s pet as if it were your own. Can you elaborate on that?
“My practice is small—by design. Me, Dr. Knight and three staff members. I’ve gone the bigger practice route and it’s just more hurried. I don’t advertise and just got my web site up. We like to keep it that way,” she concludes.
Her compassion for the special relationship between pets and their owners spills over into the practice in other ways. Back in more lucrative times, she established what she called the Angel Fund. It’s money that “a little old lady left us to use at our discretion,” Dr. Duffy notes. The funds came in handy for many a case that tugged at the heartstrings and she couldn’t bear to see the human-animal bond broken. While the Angel Fund may be long gone, the ethic lives on in perpetuity.
Do you have any outstanding treatment memories?
“Well, the most recent was the Puerto Rican pound puppies. I got two of my personal pets from that tragedy,” Dr. Duffy relates the event that rocked the veterinarian community in September of last year. Her ties to that country inspired her rise to action, joining dozens of other veterinarians, technicians, students and volunteers in an unprecedented, international rescue operation that brought both joy and sorrow to the animal care and rescue community. In fact, the incident would test the very mettle of an emergency response plan put in place to address such an event.
According to the Florida Veterinarian Medicine Association Advocate, Florida’s medical trade publication, 221 puppies from Puerto Rico were destined for a national adoption event in New York and were housed in a temporary shelter prior to transport. Unfortunately, several puppies were infected with parvovirus and distemper virus, resulting in transmission to the majority of animals in the temporary shelter. The results were horrific.
“Hundreds of them died. There was a statewide quarantine in Florida. The first time ever,” Dr. Duffy recalls. But like so many tragedies, both human and animal, it always brings out the best in people. Through their quick response, dedication to health and putting the lives of animals before personal interests, a legion of vets were instrumental in saving lives. Some housed as many as 25 animals in their facilities for months at a time, nursing them back to health.
It was a particularly tragic time; however, it had a happy ending. I ended up rescuing five puppies and kept two of them.” Equally reassuring was the fact that the quarantine procedures and responses passed muster, demonstrating that a well-planned, coordinated response keeps animals safe and healthy.