What can happen in half a century? In 50 years the United States can have nine different presidents, we can move technologically from massive complicated desktops to touch-screen smartphones, and the entire music scene can be flipped on its head. For Dr. David Wallenhurst, a member of SPCA Florida’s Veterinary team, 50 years means half a century of dedicated medical service to hundreds of animals throughout the country.
Dr. Dave was born and raised in a rural area of Ohio where he was surrounded by animals during his childhood. He worked on farm throughout junior high and high school, knowing since 8th grade that he wanted to be a veterinarian. In 1965, he graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and started his new life as a veterinarian. Dr. Dave began his career at the Massapequa Hospital for Animals in Long Island, New York as a staff veterinarian. Before New York he had never been out of Ohio apart from vacations with his parents. “Arriving in Long Island, with its new lifestyle, speed, and accents was like being transplanted to Mars,” stated Dr. Dave. “I was a country boy in the big city.”
A Vet’s Life
Long Island was a new beginning in many ways; not only was it where Dr. Dave began to form his veterinarian path, but was also the source of his funniest case. A client brought in a capuchin monkey weighing about 15-20 pounds, named Ringo. Ringo grabbed everything with his tail, sat on his owner’s shoulder, and showed affection by clicking his teeth and firing his toy gun. He had cut his finger, and every time a bandage was put on, he would take it off; this happened three times. Eventually, Dr. Dave had to cauterize the wound to stop it bleeding. “Ringo decided he liked me, even though he scared the heck out of me,” commented Dr. Dave. “He sat on my left shoulder and clicked his teeth into my ear, and on his second visit he ran into the room, jumped on the table, and started swinging from my neck by his tail; he was not like my usual clients.”
After two years in New York, Dr. Dave returned to Ohio, where he purchased a practice at 26, and became the owner and manager of the Calcutta Animal Hospital in East Liverpool until 2000. He ran this hospital and two other clinics, including the Sewickley Veterinary Hospital in Sewickley, Pennsylvania and the Beaver Veterinary Clinic in Beaver, PA, for 32 years before moving to Florida. In 2002 he joined the Humane Society of Tampa Bay as a veterinary manager and surgeon, before becoming a member of the SPCA Florida veterinary team five years later in 2009.
Dr. Dave has been with SPCA Florida since the clinic first opened in 2009. “What’s impressed me most about the last 6 years,” he confessed, “is just how quickly SPCA Florida’s practice has grown. We started in the world’s worst economy, in an industrial park with no road signage, but it still took off.” He attributes most of this success to the hardworking and passionate staff, and the excellent assistance the veterinarian techs provide the onsite veterinarians to see the maximum number of pets possible.
Dr. Dave’s dedication to the Lakeland-based organization shines through his more than an hour drive he makes from his home in the Tampa Bay area every week to see patients. “He has built an incredible reputation as knowledgeable and compassionate. Dr. Dave goes the extra mile to put pets and their guardians at ease, all while educating and holding them accountable for keeping their pets healthy,” said SPCA Florida Executive Director Adam Stanfield.
Words of Wisdom
“The most important advice I can give to new veterinarians is that coming out of vet school, you’re a veterinarian, but not a practitioner; you need to get your feet wet,” stated Dr. Dave. “Every doctor out of vet school needs a mentor, I was fortunate to have the best, Dr. Ken Feldman.” He accredits Dr. Feldman for molding him into the vet he is today, following the philosophy that as a vet “you shouldn’t worry about the money. If you do a good job, the money will follow.” Today, Dr. Dave has become a mentor to many vets at SPCA Florida. “He is our go-to resource,” said SPCA Florida Medical Center Director, Dr. Kim Domokos, “Dr. Dave mentors our younger doctors and helps troubleshoot challenging cases.”
Dr. Dave’s other main advice is to always be client-oriented. He explained that for the owners standing at the exam table across from you, their pet is their child for the most part, and you need to approach them that way. “You can also only do the best job within the owners’ limits, especially with clients who do not have unlimited resources,” Dr. Dave further expressed. “Do the minimum to make sure the pet is okay and explain the expectation, but if there is a procedure that has to be done, do not budge on it.”
Unlike many other veterinarians who move onto management after practicing for many years, Dr. Dave has remained on “the front lines.” He still practices because “it’s real.” He can have an open dialogue with patients, bond with older clients, and actually take the time to talk about a person’s own problems after straightening out the pet’s issues.
If he had gone into management or remained in private practice, Dr. Dave shared, he could have bought half a dozen Cadillacs over the years. “But when I look in the mirror in the morning I feel good.”
Thank you Dr. Dave for your 50 years of caring veterinary service!