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The Heartbeat of Compassion

By Dr. Ellen Friedman – For the Times Herald-Record

This week I want to pause and think about the guiding lights of my professional life. After more than 20 years in the veterinary field, I find myself astonished by the generosity of pet owners toward the unwanted, the unloved, the unlovely who languish in shelters, behind abandoned buildings, in parks, alone.

We have an annual memorial service at our hospital; owners of pets who have passed away over the last year are invited to gather with us as we share memories of our friends.

This year I reflected on the enormous heart of Mary Ann Cunningham, who took in a blind and deaf Dalmatian. This elderly special-needs dog received incredible attention and nursing from her caregiver. I’m sure it was difficult to stay on top of all her needs. Cunningham never complained and regretted only that Patches had too short a time with her.

Then I thought about Liz Delfs. With a busy work schedule and long commute, two elderly dogs and a cat at home, she took in the most hard-luck case ever — a stray dog with ear canal tumors, a strangulated umbilical hernia, a horrendous kidney infection, end-stage periodontol disease and a heart murmur.

We patched him up, gave him a kiss and sent him on his way home. Delfs never blinked at the shopping bag of medications we sent home. She just carried out her responsibilities like a trouper. She calls him “Willie.” We refer to him as “Lucky” — as in boy, was he lucky to find Ms. Delfs!

There are so many other wonderful people who do this sort of thing; makes you shake your head every day and smile.

Dr. Ellen Friedman is in general practice, with an interest in geriatric feline medicine, at Newburgh Veterinary Hospital and All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in New Paltz. Visit

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