It’s 1997, and I’m driving in an old school Mazda 323, with the smashing pumpkins playing loud. The crank windows are all the way down, but I’m still sticking to the vinyl seats. I’m leaving my home town, because there is no ink on my calendar, and I’m desperate for something, just anything to happen. I’ve finished a string of dead end jobs, and veterinary school is just a pipe dream at this point, because I’m not the type of student they are looking for.

If you want to be an actor, you move to Hollywood…even though the competition is stiff and the city of angels can quickly become the jaws of hell. Want a career in music? Move to LA…even though you might go broke and live in a storage unit while trying. See the highlighted corner lot below? That is where Guns n' Roses wrote all of their classic songs, while living in a storage unit. "Sweet Child o' Mine" was written in a room with no plumbing or bathroom, behind an elementary school:

Want a career with animals? Move to Guelph. I heard there were opportunities for people with an animal care background. A city of angels?

I found the university grounds and parked at the “Animal and Poultry Science” building. In contrast to the rest of the campus, this building is a drab, concrete monolith designed in the 1970’s. I step inside, and I can hear my feet echo in the hallways because there is no one else around. There is light on in a corner office, and as I get closer, I can hear the buzz of 1980’s new wave music. This must be the place. I tap on the door, and meet Gregor. The Smiths are playing from his power mac in the corner. He works for someone named Professor Rich Moccia. Professor Moccia just happens to be in the building, so if I wait around for an hour or so there is a chance I can talk to him.

I meet Richard, shake his hand, and fumble with my resume, which is of course designed to make me appear more important and experienced than I really feel that I am.  He quickly puts it down, and he just want to talk. Where am I from? What am I doing? Where am I hoping to get to? And so we talk…

I can just imagine the strings Rich Moccia must have pulled to get me into his program in short order, with funding so I could pay rent and tuition. If there was ever a lesson that it’s who you know, and not what you know, this was it. Over the next 4 years, he pushed me to think critically, and make new things that didn't exist before. Make things and publish works of tangible value. I don’t know who I would be without him.

A few weeks ago in Cuba, I met Maydelin. She had just graduated from vet school, and was working with a volunteer group that spays and neuters pets. My dad, who also helps the volunteer group, arranged things so we could visit her home. We cabbed it to her apartment complex, and walked to the back. There was a coop with chickens in one corner of the lot. On the opposite side, someone was learning to drive stick shift in a 1950’s vehicle, driving back and forth on the grass in a semi-circle.

She opened a nondescript garage door beside the chicken coop, which revealed her vet degree proudly framed on the wall, a clean metal table, and a few medications. I noticed a large cage covered in the back, and asked to see what was inside. She pulled the blanket, and there was a large orange cat inside.

Someone had damaged this cat (poured a caustic substance on it), and here was Maydelin, with very little resources, cleaning and attending to this orange tabby. This is advanced wound care that surgery will not heal, being accomplished in a garage in a cage parked next to a 1950s Russian car, with a chicken coop outside. Despite the amount of ants and insects crawling around, this wound was meticulously being cared for - very little contamination, and the cat looked comfortable. Any money she spends on this cat, she can’t use for food or other basics she needs for her family.

Maydelin had no idea I was going to come over to her clinic that day. She had no idea I was going to be peeking in the back of her garage. As I was standing there, I thought of Rich Moccia. And as I looked at Maydelin, who is the same age as I was in 1997, I thought “she just needs someone to say “yes” in a world full of “no’s”. My father and I are going to help her, just like Rich Moccia helped me. I’ve got some medications packed are already on their way for the orange tabby, and whatever else she might need. I need to learn Spanish.    

P.S. Remember Bella? The kitten that we treated from this video?

We found her again. Here she is, alive and well. Her caretaker says that instead of a mouser, she’s become part of their family. She travels in a little knapsack if she's close to the road.


P.P.S. Thank you Michelle Lem from the Vet Community Outreach, the Orleans Veterinary Hospital, and Wayne from Aventix for being instrumental in attaining medications and anesthetics to give to APAC Varedero and several other veterinarians in Cuba. When people receive these medications, their eyes widen with surprise and joy. Tears are shed.

P.P.P.S. More from Cuba

We are planning another visit in the fall. What would you do to help someone like Maydeline?


Dr. K