Back in my day – Cornell Summer 2013

 It was the last lecture on a Saturday night and a tired-looking old man in a blue suit took the seat next to me.

He listened attentively to the lecturer for a while, then leaned over to whisper.

“Back in my day,” he said, “it was different.”

He was Dr. Fred Scott – a pioneer in North American feline veterinary medicine. It made sense he would be there. We were sitting in a Cornell University lecture hall in Ithaca, New York at the 25th Annual Fred Scott Feline Symposium.

I knew it was him. I’d see him in the same blue suit two years ago and Dr. Scott had just accepted a plaque for 25 years attendance at his own symposium.

As I watched Dr. Scott accept his plaque, I realized that I actually had no real idea of who he was or what he had done. Most of the people in that room knew of him well, but the impact of the pioneers of feline medicine on recent veterinary development may be lost for the younger generation of feline veterinarians, many of whom have not been trained by these well-known personalities of faculty.

The Fred Scott Feline Symposium is a small gathering of feline veterinarians compared to the American Association of Feline Practitioners or International Society of Feline Medicine meetings that can see upwards 600 cat vets reveling in 5-star comfort. Rather than being held at an international hotel, it takes place at the oldest veterinary school in North America, set in a gentle bucolic summer landscape punctuated by ravines and waterfalls. It is an addictive setting, far different from where I studied.

In my vet school, (Onderstepoort, South Africa, 1998), I was the “crazy cat lady” of that year’s graduating class. I was open in my rampant specie-ism, unusual in a profession that is multi-species comparative and insists on multi-species competence. My professors certainly knew of my focus, and desire to practice only cat medicine. Some were reserved in their support – it was not a culture in which anybody really openly admitted how much they loved cats. Cats were considered vermin, animals best left to themselves in a barn, certainly not a creature to care about. Several of my colleagues left me in no doubt how much they hated cats. Nobody there and then really thought one could make a living and a profession out of cat-only practice.

So, I headed half-way round the world, to the continent where people were doing just that. Cat colleagues, then still few and far between, were active. It has been fascinating watching how these dedicated cat activists have been educating, motivating and activating the surge in feline medicine today. The roots of the current surge began well before I was born. Some of those people, like Dr. Scott, were in that small lecture theatre in July with me. 

I am interested in collecting and telling their stories. Entwined with their stories is the history of their technical and ideological achievements, of a rapidly changing culture, and some fascinating avenues of veterinary thinking. Explore with me, around the world, the recent history of feline medicine.

This is a broad scope, and will likely morph as the blog progresses. How far this goes, and how focused it gets, depends on funding. Eventually the material gathered may be collated into book form, and archived with the veterinary libraries and history societies. And if you are a feline veterinarian, with a story that starts “Back in my day….”- email me catvet007@mail.com – I would love to talk to you!

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