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Doing the Right Thing for Animals
By Patricia Rodriguez
This was in the late ’80s, in rural Wyoming, a time and place where neither surgical specialists nor pain medication were much in vogue in veterinary medicine. At the time, “Anesthesia was considered mostly for the purpose of restraining animals, and pain management was not emphasized,” says Dr. Downing, CVA, CCRP, CPE, Dipl. AAPM.
“In fact, in veterinary school, we were taught to fear morphine, because we were taught that it could cause respiratory depression and death. We weren’t taught the nuances of using (morphine).”
She consulted a client who was a medical doctor and general surgeon. He coached her through performing anesthesia and bowel surgery, and then how to manage pain through recovery. Two weeks later, the heeler was back to work on the ranch where she lived, helping herd 25,000 sheep.
“If I had to pick a watershed moment, that was it,” says Downing, 53, who moved to Colorado in 1991 and bought the Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, where she still practices. “After that heeler, my eyes were opened, and I began to look for ways to do a better job with pain management.”
The revelation led her to seek specialization in such fields as canine rehabilitation. In 2005, she even became one of just a handful of veterinarians who have earned a diplomate from the American Academy of Pain Management, an interdisciplinary society of pain management professionals.
And it has motivated her to become a leader nationally. Downing was a founding member and early president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, and she is the current president of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians.
“My interest in pain and pain management comes directly from my commitment to the human-animal bond,” Downing says.
Downing says she saw the light very early. Her paternal grandfather had a beloved shepherd-collie, Danny. When Danny had a stroke, her grandfather taught the dog to walk again by leaning against walls for support. When Danny went deaf in old age, her grandfather had him fitted for a hearing aid. Even as a 5-year-old, the young Downing intuited how much animals could, and should, be an integral part of the family.
So, after graduating with a degree in English from Loyola University (a degree she chose partly because it gave her a career backup plan if she didn’t get
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