Modern veterinarian makes house calls
MIDDLEBURY — Randy Ross’ medical practice relies on good old-fashioned house calls to the homes of his 1,800 patients around Addison County.
But Ross’ visits are anything but routine — he often must first track down his patient, and wrestle them onto a table and make sure they don’t run away or scratch him or his assistant.
Ross, who earned his degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania, has operated the Champlain Valley Small Animal Mobile Clinic for around 20 years, each day traveling to numerous homes around Addison County to perform check-ups and physical exams on his furry patients.
On Jan. 4, Ross pulled into the driveway of Katherine Teetor’s Middlebury home, and carried a small folding table and his doctor’s bag into the house. Leaving on his white lab coat, he removed his snowy boots before stepping onto the carpet. Teetor greeted him by wishing him a “Happy 11th day of Christmas!” and advised him that Fanchon, her 15-year-old cat, was most likely hiding in the back office of the basement.
“She has a favorite space up here, but I saw her go downstairs,” Teetor said, adding, “She doesn’t like you.”
Ross wasn’t fazed.
“Well, after all, I run away from my M.D., too,” he joked before going downstairs to retrieve his patient.
When he next emerged, he was cradling a gray, long-haired cat with amber-colored eyes gleaming at her audience. From there, he carried her to the examination table that his assistant Linda Malzac had set up in the dining room next to an elegant dining table.
Malzac held the cat on the table as Ross took her weight. Meanwhile, they both chatted with Teetor, who told them that she was in the middle of planning a special dinner. Ross continued on to clipping the cat’s toenails while listening attentively to her owner as she described the menu for the evening — bacon wrapped filet mignon with green beans and a carrot and parsnip soufflé.
Then Ross asked about Fanchon’s diet.
“I gave up Iams,” Teetor said, “Now I’m feeding her either cooked ham, turkey or chicken, but I have no idea what the quantity is.”
Ross explained that generally whatever she can eat in 15 minutes is about right, and asked Teetor about her cat’s general eating habits.
“What we want to watch for as she gets older is any change in water drinking, any change in appetite, or her weight,” he said.
Out in the van, after a rather typical appointment had come to an end, Ross printed out information from his onboard computer system, and Malzac walked the information back into the house.
A modern practice
Though Ross’s style may be a bit old-fashioned, his equipment is anything but. Ross converted a sport utility vehicle into a clinic-on-the-go, adding a custom counter unit that has spaces for a laptop computer, printers, a centrifuge, refrigerator, refractometer, tonometer, glucometer, Doppler blood pressure monitor, medications and a HomeAgain computer chip scanner used to identify found pets. Ross also has a GPS system to help him find his clients’ homes, which are scattered throughout the county.
“We’re getting two new blood machines on Thursday, so we’ll be able to do all our blood work in the van, now we’ll be able to do a complete analysis in 10 minutes with two drops of blood,” Ross said. “So we’re really quite set up. We don’t do critical care, and we don’t do surgeries, you know. But everything else we do.”
The relationship, Ross explained is similar to that of a primary care physician and his or her patients.
“We do diagnostics and routine stuff,” he said. “But if it’s something that needs to be hospitalized, we usually refer up to Bristol Animal Hospital. It’s sort of the same as if you fell out of a tree and broke your arm and you’d have to go be at a hospital.” On any given day, Ross can make visits to between five and 10 patients. Many of the clients he visits have more than one pet, or have difficulty getting out of the house for other reasons.
“We really see a broad range from one or two animals with people with a big house on the lake to 10 animals with someone who lives in the mountains in a shack,” he said. His clients’ demographics have widened since he began making his mobile practice more technologically sophisticated.
It’s the technology side of things that sets him apart from the large animal vets who have been making house and farm calls for ages, Ross said.
“The difference lies in what we can do in-house,” he said. “We can do blood work and not just take the blood — the difference would be the onboard blood analyzers.”
Ross’ practice is a really a mobile clinic, rather than just a mobile vet.
“And that really sums it up,” he said.
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected]