In this week’s blog, I sat down with Pat Bender, Office Manager for Cherokee Trail Veterinary Hospital, for an exclusive interview. As you may know, Pat will be retiring at the end of November after being the heart of the hospital for 37 years. I met with Pat at her farm in Lexington County as she relaxes in her recliner with bed head and wearing her bunny slippers. What follows is our interview that brought us both laughter and tears.
Lulu: Tell us about when you first started with Cherokee Trail.
Pat: My first contact with CTVH was with my Petting Zoo in the fall of 1977. I met Dr. Huckabee on his day off, taking out his trash at the clinic, and thought he was the yard man! At the time I had a sick kangaroo and he decided to take on a challenge. In 1978 I started volunteering and then working part time. In 1979 I closed my zoo to the public and went to work full time with Dr. Huckabee and his technician in the double wide trailer.
Lulu: How many years has that been in dog years?
Pat: If I was a dog I would be 152 years old…no wonder I’m tired!
Lulu: What kinda stuff did you do? Did you clean up poop?
Pat: I scooped poop, large animal calls, assisted in surgery, worked in reception, assisted in exam rooms, ran errands, painted walls, did plumbing, and loved on my clients.
Lulu: What was your first impression of Dr. Macaulay?
Pat: Dr. Macaulay worked with us when she was a college student. She was very focused on becoming a veterinarian and even told us that one day she would own CTVH….of course we laughed…. In 1986 Dr. Macaulay returned and joined our staff as an Associate Veterinarian. She continued to be focused on ownership, but many obstacles got in the way over the years. When Dr. Huckabee retired in 1998. Dr. Macaulay became the new owner and then the tables turned and she was my boss. I agreed to stay with Dr. Macaulay for at least 1 year under her ownership and history shows I obviously can’t count!
Lulu: How has your relationship evolved over the years?
Pat: I grew to love her and her family and formed a bond that I will always cherish. Together our practice (I feel like I have an honorary ownership) grew, more employees, a new associate, work in our community and we shared personal trials, personal celebrations, life and death situations. I promised her parents I would stay with her and I’ve never regretted one day of that commitment. She is family. (Pat wipes away a stray tear).
Lulu: It sounds like you have a very special friendship with Dr. Macaulay that will last well past your retirement day. Well, what was your first impression of Dr. Boyette?
Pat: Dr. Boyette joined us in 1998. I was very guarded about this transplant from Ohio. Dr. Boyette brought new ideas to this country practice and at first I think we scared each other. I thought I knew what I was doing and he quickly taught me you can always learn something new!
Lulu: How has your relationship with Dr. Boyette evolved over the years?
Pat: In 2000 he partnered with Dr. Macaulay and we became a family of (3)! Dr. B was a perfect addition to keep us on track. My guard was slowly let down and another footprint was added to my heart! (Again, Pat wipes away a tear).
Lulu: Dr. B sounds like a good man and a good friend. When you started, veterinary medicine was a lot different than it is now…how have you had to adapt over the years?
Pat: We outgrew our double wide trailer, moved into 3000 sq. ft. and quickly turned into sardines. We grew from a country vet where I’ve taken payments in money, vegetables, meat, and even a 1957 car…..moved from pencil, pen, peg board receipts, index cards, beepers and hand tanks in x-ray to computers, tablets, cell phones, laptops, laser surgery and pet insurance. In 2005 we moved yet again into almost 11,000 sq. ft. with more employees and more associates. This is our final resting place with state of the art equipment and compassionate health care for our fur babies. I’m living proof you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Lulu: What has been the secret to your loooong-e-gevity with CTVH?
Pat: I was given the rare opportunity to grow in this business almost from the ground up. My love for animals became a hands on life experience. I have become friends with my clients and watched them start families, had picnics in the parks, celebrated birthdays, loved on them through sicknesses and deaths, and seen life come full circle with next generations. I am a people person and our 9000+ clients are “my” people. God blessed me with this job!
Lulu: E’eryone I talk with says how much they love you and how special you are to them…what is the secret to creating these lasting relationships with staff and clients?
Pat: I have always tried to treat people the way I would like to be treated. Honestly is a key part of who I am and confidentiality is a must. I have always tried to be a good listener and not bring my personal problems into the workplace. Clients and staff have shared their concerns with me and I try to be fair and offer alternatives depending on the situation at the time. Compassion is also important to me….you never know what the other person is dealing with at the time and kindness usually opens doors for conversation.
Lulu: Have you ever expressed YOUR anal glands at work?
Pat: Can’t ever remember expressing my anal glands at work but I did lose all my front teeth in 1992 when I was hit in the mouth by a golden retriever that had on an old time wire muzzle. In a split second my teeth were laying all over the exam room floor and I looked like a rabbit gone wild!
Lulu: What is one of the oddest encounters you have had at CTVH?
Pat: Probably my ventures with Vernon the vulture that decided to take up residence at our front door at the old building. I tried to catch him one day and didn’t know they protected themselves by throwing up on their prey!!! Fortunately I wasn’t able to grab him fast enough with all the wing flapping and jumping up and down or I would have been doused in vomit!!!! (Pat and Lulu laughing).
Pat: Another time we had a client come in to buy heartworm pills and while at the front desk (again at the old building) she disappeared behind the counter in mid conversation and then popped up again and continued talking. When I asked if she was ok she explained she was in strong labor and was on her way to the hospital to deliver her 3rd baby! No way was I going to be her midwife! Her husband was out of town and she was driving herself to the hospital and didn’t want her dog to be without his heartworm pills while she was in the hospital. (Pat and Lulu laughing and snorting).
Lulu: No, Cherokee Trail don’t know nuttin’ about birthing human babies!!!!! (More laughing). Well, we all know that English Bulldogs are the best breed ever but what is your second favorite breed?
Pat: I have always been partial to Labs even though I raised Schnauzers for a number of years. Right now the love of my life is a Yorkie/Poo….I can do no wrong in his eyes! The truth is I love them all. When I first came to work at CTVH I had 23 dogs and several cats. I have learned over the years to say “no” when someone needs a home for their pets but that wasn’t always the case.
Lulu: On any given day, you are responsible for so many things. Give us a list of some of job titles you have to cover in a given day.
Pat: Working with our IT Guru, Prep payroll, phone calls, weekly scheduling, talking with vendors, more phone calls, helping with inventory, dealing with employees, questions, questions, questions, fixing toilets, fixing computers, scheduling meetings for doctors, ordering food for meetings, talking with clients in exam rooms on financial issues, grooming and whatever else comes up during the day……
Lulu: What has been the funniest job title?
Pat: Being Dr. Huckabee’s barber for about 10 years since I was also a licensed cosmetologist….it became part of my job description
Lulu: Most people don’t realize that even when you are not in the office that you are still working. You get phone calls on your days off, on holidays, in the middle of the night, while you are on vacation and even when you are sick. How have you maintained your personal life while conquering a job that has you on call 24 hours a day?
Pat: I have never minded being available to my doctors or our clients. Nothing in my job description dictates being available day and night, it has always been my personal choice. My family understands the occasional interruptions and many times it’s just a short conversation that puts an owner at ease until we can see them in the office the following day. Over the years technology has allowed me to be able to make appointments and look up information from home with my remote connection….
Lulu: What will you miss most about CTVH?
Pat: My work family and the faces of our clients that have left footprints on my heart forever. (More tears from Pat and Lulu).
Lulu: How do you plan to spend all your new free time?
Pat: My 6 grandchildren have plenty of ideas for me, my great grandchild will need a babysitter from time to time, my son-in-law wants me to open a bakery/gift shop with him and if I have my way they will all have to find me where the wind blows on sandy beaches under a palm with a coconut refreshment…………….. because it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere!
As we ended our interview around 5 o’clock, Pat was headed to the kitchen in her bunny slippers to find that coconut refreshment. After 37 years of crazy days and heart felt encounters, a coconut refreshment is well deserved. Pat, I speak for all of the Cherokee Trail doctors, staff, clients and pets when I say thank you for all that you have done and now ENJOY your well deserved retirement! We love you! (Lots of tears).
Until next time…