From New York City, to the Carribean, to Texas, to Calgary, to Vancouver, Dr. Midge Ritchie has treated all kinds of animals. Now she’s taking on a new challenge: Bowen’s furry friends.
Ritchie is Bowen’s new veterinarian. With more than 15 years of experience working with animals (first as a kennel assistant, then as a technician and finally as a vet), Ritchie is taking over the stead of Bowen Vet founder Dr. Alastair Westcott.
Bowen Vet closed last July so that its staff could focus on opening the Mountainside Animal Hospital in North Vancouver. Westcott is now medical director at the state-of-the-art facility, which is owned and operated by islander Walt Ruloff (who also owns Bowen Vet). For nearly a year islanders have been directed to Mountainside for both routine and urgent pet care. But now, island pets can get treated on island once again.
Bowen Vet, once its renovation and recertification is complete, likely in early June, will offer 24-hour on-call emergency services, as well as routine business hour services. These include X-rays, full surgery, bloodwork, dentistry and more. Ritchie will be the only vet at the clinic.
Born and raised in Ohio, Ritchie says that she didn’t always want to be a vet: she started out in fashion design and art history. She worked as museum education director and for the Museum at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York City before testing the waters of animal care, working as a kennel assistant on the weekends.
“I was cleaning poop and doing all the yucky stuff, right? And I loved it,” says Ritchie. “I thought this is this right. This is the right fit.”
So Ritchie attended Ross University School in St. Kitts (in the Caribbean) for her vet training (as a mature student the accelerated program was attractive) and did her clinical year at Texas A&M.
After school, Ritchie moved back to New York, where she worked in an emergency clinic for three years.
“So I was doing whole the whole overnights [thing],” she says. “You learn a lot of stuff really fast when you’re doing emergency. So that that also helps with the emergency aspect of [Bowen] Island.”
In 2014, Ritchie moved to Calgary and worked at an emergency clinic there before she had her now-three-year-old son (Bowen’s newest fan).
After moving to Vancouver, Ritchie worked at Cats Only in feline medicine and then at the Shaughnessy Vet Hospital in Port Coquitlam.
Now she lives on Bowen and she describes Bowen Vet as a “labour of love.”
Ritchie and administrator Karis Clayton have spent the last month getting the clinic ready for reopening. Bowen Vet needs to get re-accredited with the College of Veterinarians of B.C. and Ritchie and Clayton are taking the opportunity to make some changes.
The walls are a soft green palette and the furniture pet-friendly. Ritchie is implementing “fear free” practices to make visits less nerve-wracking for pet and owner alike.
“[We] tried to make a really concerted effort to make it still a full service hospital but also a more pleasant experience to come in,” says Ritchie.
Not only is Ritchie shedding her white coat (white coat syndrome is apparently thing in animals as well as humans) but the exam table is folded up against the wall. Ritchie plans to do the dog exams sitting on the floor or on the ottoman. Cats can be examined while perched on the series of ledges next to the window (glass safely dividing cats from the bird feeder outside) or in a wicker box (cats love boxes).
Bowen Vet is a major undertaking for the new islander but one she says she’s up for.
“[It’s] one of those things where I think the island deserves it and the pets of the islands deserve it,” says Ritchie.
Bowen Vet 2.0 will also feature a treat bar, with samples of all the treats for sale at the clinic, and pets (chaperoned by owners) are encouraged to drop by, for no reason other than to get a treat, a pat and a hello.
What can Boweners expect in terms of care for their pets? Ritchie says that she believes in education and communication, for prevention, in diagnosis and throughout treatment.
“When I’ve diagnosed your animal with a disease or with something that can sound devastating, I always tell people that we’re partners now,” she says. “This is sort of a team, and we are, you (the owner) and me and our staff, is part of the treatment team for that for that animal.”
Bowen Vet is slated to reopen in early June, and when it does, there’ll be a party.
This story has been edited from the story "Bowen Vet Reopening in June" initially published in the Undercurrent on May 9.
Corrections from the print edition:
• Karis Clayton is Bowen Vet's "hospital" administrator not "hotel" administrator as previously stated.
• The new Bowen Vet will not provide endoscopies as previously stated.
• Alastair Westcott is "Medical Director" not "medical head" at Mountainside as previously stated and he is a co-owner at Mountainside.
Clarification:"Mountainside is still affiliated with Bowen Vet Services as a referral hospital and any medically-advanced cases or cases that require specific diagnostic treatment will be transferred to Mountainside Animal Hospital"
Dr. Midge Ritchie says that it took her some time to realize she wanted to be a vet, rather than she didn’t always want to be a vet.
The Bowen Island Undercurrent apologizes for these errors and any misunderstandings that have occurred.