Dr. Lakshmi Ramana, city's first woman private veterinary practitioner, said that she finds animals less complicated than human beings

January 26 is no occasion to sit back with a mug of coffee and be a couch potato, for Dr. Lakshmi Ramana. Her clinic is busy with ‘patients' demanding her attention. A burly golden retriever on the examination table of the clinic takes an injection after some protest and a few growls. “We cannot afford to declare a holiday; at least the emergency clinic has to be kept open for a while. Diseases don't come knocking only on working days. In fact, my husband (Dr. Ramana Rao) was up till 2 a.m. yesterday treating a dog injured in a road accident,” Dr. Lakshmi Ramana says with a smile, taking a break from work to distribute sweets to her staff for Republic Day.

Veterinary science is now a lucrative career, unlike two decades ago. “When my family learnt I wanted to become a veterinarian, they told me I'd end up being in a ‘backdoor profession' — vets are usually allowed into a house through the backdoor; animals are examined often through the back…,” she says.

Coming from an orthodox Brahmin family, animals were not allowed into her maternal grandparents' home. “I was prodded to think of alternatives to veterinary science and even wrote the entrance test for NID (National Institute of Design). The rest of my family members are scientists and industrialists. But I knew what I wanted. I grew up being fond of all kinds of animals, from lizards to snakes, and told my friends I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was in IV Standard! Luckily, my mother told me to go ahead. She believed that one should be happy with the career of choice. Mom was a microbiologist, a scientist of repute. My grandfather tried to tell me to follow my mother's footsteps. I was firm in my decision,” she recalls with the hint of pride evident in her eyes.

She met Dr. Ramana Rao while studying and their mutual love for animals was a driving factor that brought them together. She spent a year and a half in government service, was happy with her work but unhappy with the politics and moved to private practice. This was 17 years ago and she was the city's first woman private practitioner for animals.

Starting from scratch

Pacing in the foyer of the hospital, she recalls, “I started treating right here where a car garage stood in place of this Animal Care Centre. I didn't have facility to administer IV fluids. My husband and I had meagre savings, about Rs. 4000 to 5000, and we bought two tables, which are still in the front area of the clinic. I used a ladder as an IV stand and administered drips. I started off by visiting people's homes to treat their pets and got paid in kind than cash… they used to give me lauki, kadoo or lunch! A neighbour of ours, an orthopaedic surgeon at a leading hospital, had a dog that required surgery. The dog had eaten up a ball. We needed to get an X-ray done. We walked into his hospital with the dog (access was guaranteed since he was working there, we marched in unmindful of startled looks) and used the X-ray room. Patients, waiting for their turn, refused to get their X-ray taken with the same machine, in spite of us telling them that the dog was placed on the floor and the X-ray film and machine never touched the animal.”

Over the years, word-of-mouth publicity helped her and her husband build up their own hospital. But Dr. Lakshmi wanted to do more. She started Abhaya, to provide shelter for animals. There was something lacking, she realised, to add that ‘star' touch.

Vanara sainyam

“Once, learning that Amala was shooting nearby, I went to meet her. She got married, moved to Hyderabad and later began Blue Cross and Abhaya merged with it. I tell her jokingly that she was like Rama without the vanara sainyam and we were the band of monkeys looking for a leader,” she laughs.

Dr. Lakshmi is on the advisory board of Blue Cross, Hyderabad, and joint secretary of People For Animals, Hyderabad, working closely with Vasanthi Vadi.

Both Dr. Lakshmi and her husband are involved in stray dog sterilisation projects. “I offer a discount and don't charge consultation fee for those who've adopted stray dogs,” she asserts. An ambulance for emergencies functions round the clock, another first for a private veterinarian.

Years of dealing with animals has left her with scars. “I've been thrown off a horse and been bitten numerous times. I have so many scars all over,” she says, proud of her scars.

She finds it simple to communicate with animals. “Animals don't read between the lines. You can have straightforward communication with them. They are less complicated than human beings. I am proud to be a veterinarian.”

A few yards away from the hospital, as she walks into her residence, which stands surrounded by a well-maintained garden, we learn of her green thumb.

A mother of two, she does a balancing act between home and work: “As a mother, I feel I'm not giving enough time to my children. My daughter, 11, shares this love for animals and sometimes tells me that I should be at work treating animals than spending time at home. She says she wants to be a vet. My son, 7, just wants to change car tyres.”

When not at work, Dr. Lakshmi plays the piano, loves to unwind listening to music, the choice of which varies from soothing classical music to rock.

Work is over for the day and she switches role from a doctor to a mother, looking forward to spending the rest of the national holiday with her children.

Proud to be a Vet

Dr. Lakshmi Ramana was the first veterinarian in South India to be awarded by PACE Foundation in 2007 for her clinical practice.

She and her husband Dr. Ramana Rao have treated animals as different as reptiles, birds and armadillos.

A gold medallist in surgery, APAU, she feels people are not shy anymore to admit their love for animals.

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