In balancing strength and compassion, Gwen Sherman, D.V.M., hits the mark.
The veteran vet, recently retired from VCA Mount Kisco Veterinary Clinic, can command any kind of horsepower – be it in on horseback or on a racecar track. But she has also brought a tender touch to the proverbial creatures great and small – all in a profession that is, she reveals, facing alarming challenges underscored in the time of Covid.
“People are adopting a lot more animals, especially dogs right now,” she says. “Veterinarians are concerned, because there’s such a demand that unfortunately it also encourages the puppy mills that we’re not huge fans of.
The adoptions are not limited to traditional pets but include the more exotic variety as well – a troubling practice, she says.
“My feeling is they’re not meant to be kept as pets. I mean, it depends on the species, but when you commit to something like an exotic bird, they can live 40 to 50 years, so there has to be tremendous thought and preparation. These animals need to be provided for. They also need a tremendous amount of attention and stimulation. It’s like living with perpetual toddlers. They can develop anxiety issues and start picking their feathers, and things like that….It’s not always in their best interest.”
But there is another problem – crisis would not be too strong a word – affecting the industry that pre-dates Covid and that she wants to talk about, that has more to do with two-legged creatures.
“It’s a subject I think most people are unaware of, and that is we are having a major issue with suicide in the industry.”
Indeed, she adds, veterinarians have one of the highest rates of suicide, five times that of other professions.
“Well, we’re dealing with constant sadness and disappointment in our industry, because people are coming to us with their animals that are ill,” says Sherman, a supporter of Not One More Vet, a nonprofit that aids veterinarians and veterinary students who have suicidal thoughts. “And what happens is that pet owners often think they’re being financially taken advantage of. But medicine is expensive, and our overheads are massive. And, added to that, most veterinarians coming out of vet school are loaded with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, which can take their entire career to pay, because we don’t make the kind of money that M.D.s and dentists make. So veterinarians are already under tremendous stress.”
Despite the challenges of veterinary medicine, or maybe in part because of them, Sherman seems to have been destined for animals. Growing up in Carmel – not far from North Salem, where she now resides – Sherman says, “We always had a houseful of cats and dogs. And the cats were always catching birds and mice and things like that. I always found the need to try and rescue these poor creatures and nurse them back to health – typically after my own cats had already done a bit of damage.
“Nature and the environment were kind of home for me. They just spoke to me. And growing up, I belonged to 4-H clubs, and I also used to ride western pleasure (a competitive, easygoing western style), before I moved on to gymkhana (competitive games on horseback). I moved up to state level and was doing barrel racing and keyhole and things like that. So horses were a big part of my life growing up also.”
“English riding, which is also very beautiful, is much more common here, but my preference – or I should say my comfort level – is more in western riding. I actually spent several weeks out in Montana last fall. I took a little break from work and went out west where I was on a 30,000-acre ranch, back in the western saddle, herding cattle.”
With her love and early experience of animals, it’s not surprising that Sherman would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and chemistry from the University of Maryland at College Park and a D.V.M. from Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. After working in two practices, one in northern Westchester and one in Putnam County, she became co-owner in 2004 of the VCA Mount Kisco Veterinary Clinic.
“I’d kind of taken (things) as far as I could to that point. I had 14 years’ experience and was ready to really just have things run the way I wanted them. I wanted to make sure we were very compassionate and caring towards our clients and these animals – not just the very best animal health care but also the very best in compassion and nursing care for them.”
And that includes the latest treatments, says Sherman, who took a senior year internship in oncology in vet school. “As the field grew, new specialties grew up, like cardiology and neurology. There’s also surgical laser, which I was trained in about 25 years ago. And therapy like they use for the sports teams, where actually the modality has shifted into veterinary medicine.”
With retirement stretching before her like an open road – or trail – Sherman can indulge her passion for various kinds of horsepower.
“I’ve always had an interest in not so much the type of car but more handling and the speed. I’m fortunate to have raced on track. I do belong to a private club at this point, and I’ve had some success winning actually up at Lime Rock (Park in Lakeville, Connecticut,) with a Ferrari I was driving.
“Racing is very relaxing for me. Things that are very high energy – riding horses, herding cattle – that’s a relaxation for me and it was also a great preparation for emergencies that would come in to the clinic. I could usually stay quite calm because the adrenalin rush was very natural. And I still continue to have a passion for cars.”
Not your typical hobby perhaps, but then, Sherman adds, “if I tried to cook for you, I’d probably kill you.”
For more on VCA Mount Kisco Veterinary Clinic, visit vcahospitals.com. And for more on Not One More Vet (NOMV), visit nomv.org.