Care and caring

Care and caring

A UF leader recounts how the College of Veterinary Medicine was there for him and his dog when they needed it most.

By Jack Payne
Jack Payne

Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources for UF and the leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

I want everyone who’s ever loved a pet to experience what I experienced in the UF Small Animal Hospital a few weeks ago.

(Dean) Jim Lloyd helped me get my canine companion of 15 years, a friend through three different jobs in three different states, from the backseat of my car into the building. The dean’s job description doesn’t say “answer calls from SVP at 7 a.m. on a Sunday to comfort him as his dog is euthanized.”

But he’s a professional empathizer. When he got the call, he immediately called the Small Animal Hospital and told them that I was coming. I drove in with my dog Zorro from Cedar Key that morning and Jim Lloyd was waiting for me by the front door.

What he told his staff, though, was something really important — to “treat” me as well as my dog. “Do what you do every day,” is what he told them.

I tell you this because facilities are important, but what’s going to make this place really work is the people. It’s where we’ll train people to be like Jim Lloyd.

To be a competent veterinarian, you need to be able to read an X-ray, examine an animal and administer medications. To be a great veterinarian, you’ve got to know how to communicate with someone who’s in tears and emotional pain like I was that Sunday morning.

This new facility has a communications skills room. I’m here to tell you that it’s as important to me as any of the machines. It’s one of those places where observers can stand behind glass unseen and watch colleagues and students play out scenarios. Like how to deal with those difficult conversations about cost of treatment. Or even worse, talking about a problem money can’t solve.

So kudos to the visionaries behind this space. Like the rest of the educators here, they haven’t settled for just producing technically proficient practitioners. They’ve created an environment where the next generation of veterinarians will learn how to manage not just the terminal illness of my Australian shepherd, but the anguish that I brought along with my dog.

Jack Payne dog Zorro

Jack Payne dog Zorro

Dr. Bobbi Conner gave me all the time I needed to say goodbye. Then she let me hold Zorro as she euthanized him.

A couple of weeks later, I got a card from Dr. Conner. She wrote: “The tragedy of dogs is they never live long enough, but they do pack a lifetime’s worth of love and devotion into the precious years they spend with us.”

This card told me that she understood that what happened in the Small Animal Hospital that Sunday didn’t end when Zorro breathed his last. I still carry him with me, and her note showed me that she gets that. I want everyone to have a veterinarian like Bobbi Conner.

This new floor makes that more likely. So I’m not only proud of what you’re opening here, but I’m personally grateful for it. Zorro is, too.

In fact, Dr. Conner will be teaching in this space. Students will get to practice and observe end-of-life scenarios in here. By the time these students meet people like me, they’ll be people like Bobbi Conner.
That, too, is a great comfort to me. After all, I’ve got three more dogs.