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On Losing a Veterinarian


The next morning, Jay called; he had done a late-night necropsy and found pervasive cancer. “I just wanted you to know for sure that you made the right decision,” he said. “You saved him suffering.”

Six weeks later, Jay was back to remove a strange growth from Bucky’s paw. I wrestled the dog onto a table and held on for dear life as Jay anaesthetized the spot and cut it away. I was terrified. Also, it was August in Manhattan; it was over 100 degrees and I was embracing 60 pounds of writhing fur. Jay had brought Jordan, now eight, who was playing a video game on the couch; they were leaving for a week’s vacation the next day. “You’re doing great,” he smiled. “Are you okay?” There he was, more than six feet tall and teetering on toosmall feet, doing the most precise surgical maneuver I’ve ever seen on a jittery animal in mediocre light on a kitchen table, and he was checking on me.

Then in the background: “Dad, can I download an app on your iPhone?”

Four days later, Jay was dead. His last email to me, written the day before he died, assured us that Bucky’s growth, while a tumor, was benign, and his surgery was curative. “The leaves are starting to change color in New Hampshire,” he wrote. “Hope all is well, will check in next week.”

We didn’t know about his death until several weeks later. His phone had been disconnected and he wasn’t replying to emails, so I finally called his sister. On the phone, she told me many things about Jay, including that when he was hospitalized the previous year, he had spent a week in a coma. She, his best friend, sat beside him, holding his hand. Finally, he emerged and, at age 62, taught himself how to walk, and work, again.

We hadn’t known. He was so stoic, so tough. Like Duncan, he just soldiered on, got to the other side of whatever pain he was feeling, whatever obstacle his body threw at him. And no matter what, he was always there. We never had to worry, never had to dread. All we had to do was pick up the phone and call. “You just hang on, I’ll be there soon.”

He was loyal, constant and true. It hit me like a gale force, the realization that I had taken so much for granted about this man and the role he played in our lives. By the time I understood, he was gone, and it was too late to say goodbye.



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 65: Jun/Aug 2011
Annik La Farge is a writer and web project manager. Author of the blog LivinTheHighLine.com and the book The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do It Yourself (and you can!) or You Work with Pros, she lives in New York City and Hudson, N.Y., with her partner and their seven-year-old Springer Spaniel, Bucky. anniklafarge.com

Building ornament, Amsterdam

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Daniel | February 3 2012 |

Annik, Thank you for a wonderful and poetic tribute. Dr. Shapiro was the first vet for our 2 cats, while he was still located at the West 86th Street office. After he sold the practice, we had him over for a couple of house calls. The last time we saw him was in 2009 and yet it's inconceivable that it was so long ago -- we still listed him as one of our emergency contacts whenever we traveled. Everything you've written rings true; he was such a wonderful vet. And it's only today, a year-and-a-half after he died, that I found out, first by calling his number, then by e-mailing him, and finally by doing a web search. It was devastating to read your article, but I thank you greatly for it ... otherwise I really wonder whether I would ever have learned the sad news. We saw him only occasionally, but he was a special part of our lives, and it is heartbreaking to hear that he is gone.

Submitted by Gail Gondek | December 2 2013 |

I am heartbroken to learn of Dr. Shapiro's death. He saved my Dog's life several times. I lost contact with him after he left West Park Veterinary. He was a true healer and an exceptional man. Here is a photo of Dr. Shapiro with Fog after a tennisballectomy and difficult recovery. http://www.foggytales.com/book%20four.htm God bless you, Dr. Shapiro

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