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College Point gets its first animal hospital

Growing up in College Point, Deirdre Ryan loved dogs, and she loved a book her mother gave her about veterinary science. She toted it to reading lab at St. Fidelis in College Point, ecstatic whenever she cracked it open. From then on, she was convinced she would become a veterinarian.

She was right.

But what Ryan couldn’t possibly have known nearly 30 years ago was that she would be the first vet to open an animal hospital in College Point. After working as an associate for seven years, practicing at a clinic in Middle Village, and building up a broad patient base from the house calls she made, Ryan finally decided to set out on her own in March 2000 and plan her hospital.

She’s been open for three weeks now, and so far there have been no snags to speak of. “Everything is going well,” Ryan said at her office on College Point Boulevard near 14th Avenue. “There’s always that joke when you first start out that you have to find things for yourself to do because it is so slow. But I find that business has definitely been brisk.”

Most children change their minds dozens of times before picking a profession. Many adults do the same thing. But after reading a series of books on veterinary science, written by James Herriott, that Ryan’s mother gave her when she was 10, Ryan was sure she wanted to be a vet.

So she went to Cornell University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in the early 1980s, later attending the University of Connecticut to do graduate work in animal science. Veterinary school was next for Ryan, and from 1987 to 1989 she studied in England at the Royal Veterinary College, where the focus was more about treating animals in an agrarian setting than in a house or apartment.

Ryan’s mother died while she was studying there, so she came back to College Point. She transferred to the University of Tennessee and completed her veterinarian degree in 1993, once again returning to Queens where she began work as an associate in Middle Village. Before that, she worked as a veterinary technician for two years at a clinic in Bayside.

The next seven years taught Ryan what she liked and disliked about veterinary science — experience she would draw upon when designing her own animal hospital.

“A lot of times you go into a hospital and it’s dark, and it puts you in that whole mood,” she said. “If you’re bringing in a sick animal, you don’t want to feel closed in and dark on top of being worried.”

When Ryan left the Middle Village clinic last March, she was also making two to three dozen house calls a week, building up her future patient base. After much consideration, Ryan chose as her site a former Chicken USA fast-food restaurant.

It took five months to renovate the building, gutting it completely to strip away the former remnants of the restaurant. Ryan knew what she wanted her new clinic to look like, so she set about putting it down in writing.

“I got my graph paper and my ruler and measured everything, and I gave [the architect] what I wanted,” she said with a mischievous smile on her face. She lowered her voice. “But he said to me, ‘You’re doing my job.’”

Many animal hospitals tend to bear that perfunctory feel of a faceless clinic. But Ryan’s has wide-open windows and walls painted in blue to create a bright, airy atmosphere. Even the benches in the waiting room have a light, unimposing sense about them, a design she borrowed from an emergency clinic in Westbury where she works one night a week.

Just as the general practitioner is virtually a relic, so must the veterinarian find a specialty in which to practice. Ryan’s is in diseases that affect the endocrine system, such as diabetes or Cushion’s Disease, a particularly debilitating illness that attacks the pituitary or adrenal glands, causing an overproduction of steroids. Often it can be deadly.

Unlike surgeries, medicine is constantly evolving, which, Ryan said, explains her choice of specialty. But funding for research in animal diseases, she said, has perennially lagged.

“One thing that I find so interesting is that in terms of human research, where did it start?” Ryan said. “It will benefit [animals] in some ways, but a lot of the animal experimentation going on is to benefit the humans, not the animals.”

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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